What Zuboff observed was that as intellectual engagement with the work went down, the necessity of concentration and attention went up. What the computer did was make the work so routine, so boring, so mindless, clerical workers had to physically exert themselves to be able to focus on what they were even doing. This transition, from work being about the application of knowledge to work being about the application of attention, turned out to have profound physical and psychological impact on the clerical workers themselves.
In assessing levels of stress and job satisfaction between clerical workers placed at a computing terminal and those in the control group doing tasks by hand, the researchers determined that clerical employees using computer terminals reported higher degrees of monotony and fatigue and general job dissatisfaction versus those performing the same kind of work by hand.... Tasked with boring, repetitive labor, clerical VDT workers reported “low ratings of job involvement and job autonomy,” and felt they had little control over their job requirements. For the women pressed onto VDTs for clerical work, the problem was not simply the computer, but the way the computer’s so-called productivity diminished the satisfaction they took in their labor.
There are two hundred and thirty million knowledge workers in the world, which includes, according to the Federal Reserve, more than a third of the U.S. workforce.
– Cal Newport, E-Mail is Making Us Miserable
Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life! Before succumbing to the intoxicating warmth of that promise, it’s critical to ask, “Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like non-work?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” Historian Mario Liverani reminds us that “ideology has the function of presenting exploitation in a favorable light to the exploited, as advantageous to the disadvantaged.”
Visitors are left to wonder: are bureaucratic communications and security intelligence—with all their garish graphics and charmless prose—the apotheosis of the Renaissance’s pursuit of enlightenment, a pursuit embodied by the library and all that it safeguards?