Digital Myth? Visions and Open Questions in the Field of “Digital” Work

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal BIG 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Linda NIERLING, KIT, Germany
Bettina KRINGS, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany
Antonio MONIZ, KIT, Germany
The "Internet Age", and hence the widespread introduction of digital technologies in diverse work environment(s) are recognized as the important change in work in all sectors in industrialized societies in the last decades. Visions like “industry 4.0” or the unlimited mobility of “virtual work” fuel discussions on scientific but also on political levels. The question, however, how digital technologies concretely affect current work and how these are initiating changes is still largely unexplored. Furthermore empirical evidence of “digital” work still is rarely discussed within theoretical models of work.

Based on a review of current visions of digital work it will be argued that the scientific and political debate is still in a phase of “digital myth” creation. In order to understand and shape the characteristics of “digital” work it seems crucial to develop a theoretical model of work and technology. This model should be able to (a) reflect the highly different work environments of “digital” work and (b) to identify technology as enabler for changes at work. Thus, the paper proposes a contextualised approach towards work and technology: The introduction of digital technologies creates socio-technical spaces that are initially influenced by technical parameters to which organizational and individual working structures adapt ex-post.

The authors conclude that it is important to deliberately design socio-technical working spaces – on a micro-level – according to normative principles for “good” employment. Furthermore – on a macro-level – a societal debate on “digital” work should start in a sense that the power of digital technologies may be transformed into the ‘classical’ ideal of work and technology: “machinery, considered alone, shortens the hours of labour, but, when in the service of capital, lengthens them; since in itself it lightens labour, but when employed by capital, heigthens the intensity of labour” (Marx, Capital, Vol I, ch. 15).