The Hand That Feeds

Will Boase

Keywords: Labour, Digital economy, Technology

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Automation and algorithmic management are reshaping the relationship between employers and workers. By eroding the importance of experience and replacing it with the dead labour embodied in a machine or an app, potential workforces are dramatically expanded while the bargaining power of those same workers is reduced. This also has secondary effects even on industries that are not themselves directly at risk from automation, as those cast aside search for any form of work to keep the ever-rising rent paid.

In a world in which an increasing amount of jobs need little more than a bit of computing power and an internet connection, we are all compelled to compete in a global marketplace. It’s not just the frontline workers who are losing stability, either. Apps also frequently replace the local management layer that would previously have been needed to scale a business beyond a single site. There’s no need for managers when the workforce already monitor themselves.

The same cellphones are also the window through which the world is seen. Images of work, of entertainment, of commerce and romance, are all flattened and commodified into a tiny rectangle of glass that is at once both inner sanctum and shop window, confessional and surveillant. We face a vision of ourselves as product, remediated by algorithms. It becomes hard to distinguish living from advertising, or to separate one country from another. We cease to see the world itself, and instead see its image translated by capital.