I’m sitting here in London Heathrow airport, and scrolling through all last night’s Tweets on my Twitter client. I notice that, in addition to the Tweets I put up from #sdthinks, where I was speaking last night, there are lots of people I follow who were also at conferences doing live updates.
There are lots of people who are at airports in work time and clearly do their work mobile, whilst keeping in touch with everyone else.
They are lots who are arguing about Enterprise Architecture, or other professional stuff, in real-time.
There are lots who, in time-zones opposite mine, are working out whether they should, or should not, go out for Friday night cocktails with colleagues, or go home to families.
There are none at all who are process workers, or, the new term of today, task workers.
This makes me wonder: am I particularly discriminatory in who is in my list of people I follow? Or is something else at play here?
I then log into my newsreader, latch onto a presentation of technology trends, and come across the quote “In the next 10 years, everyone except task workers will be equipped with a notebook, which they will probably provide for themselves. Task workers will have fixed location PCs, stripped down to be optimised for the task at hand”.
It makes me realise something: practically everything we do today in tech is optimised for the knowledge worker. Task workers are getting shut out.
In the Department, we worry about Digital Inclusion a lot. There are many people who don’t have access to computers and the internet, so providing services to them online is difficult. The Digital Divide can be very real.
But what about the new divide? On the one hand, the whole tech industry is occupying itself in making knowledge workers more productive, more able to promote themselves, and more able to access the information and data that will make them successful. The best of them are self publishing constantly. They’re on twitter, and they have personal brands. Their future is their network.
On the other, though, there are the task workers. For task workers the normal approach is to take radical steps to make sure they can’t participate in the conversation by turning off their tools at work. Monitor their working patterns to get the maximum number of work units out of them in a given time, making sure the cost to serve are as low as possible! Deny them every opportunity to be digitally engaged, to build their own brands during the working week.
If they want to do that, they can do it on their own time, managers reason. Of course, that’s all very well when most of the influentials they might choose to connect with are at home or in bed.
Here is the problem I see. By making sure that task workers don’t have the same access to resources as knowledge workers, we ensure that they will stay task workers forever. It is a new class system that is only marginally more acceptable than the one we already worry about with the Digital Divide.
I mean, everyone knows that the best jobs go to those that know how to network into them, or have sufficient profiles they get noticed independently of their network.
The thing is, I’m not even sure how you would go about fixing this. Its not enough to say that our task workers need better training, when they aren’t allowed the the liberty to grow and flourish because of the press of work. And, on the other hand, I can’t see a solution which lets the cost of service rise all that dramatically either because of “declining productivity”.
I think there is indeed a new digital divide, and it is not one of the have-technology versus the have-nots. Its worse than that. Its the divide about those who are allowed to use it and those who aren’t.