Jodi Kantor

Like increasing numbers of low-income mothers and fathers, Ms. Navarro is at the center of a new collision that pits sophisticated workplace technology against some fundamental requirements of parenting, with particularly harsh consequences for poor single mothers. Along with virtually every major retail and restaurant chain, Starbucks relies on software that choreographs workers in precise, intricate ballets, using sales patterns and other data to determine which of its 130,000 baristas are needed in its thousands of locations and exactly when. Big-box retailers or mall clothing chains are now capable of bringing in more hands in anticipation of a delivery truck pulling in or the weather changing, and sending workers home when real-time analyses show sales are slowing. Managers are often compensated based on the efficiency of their staffing.
Scheduling is now a powerful tool to bolster profits, allowing businesses to cut labor costs with a few keystrokes.
Yet those advances are injecting turbulence into parents’ routines and personal relationships, undermining efforts to expand preschool access, driving some mothers out of the work force and redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families, say parents, child care providers and policy experts.

2 thoughts on “Jodi Kantor

  1. shinichi Post author

    When Technology Makes Work Worse

    by Anna North

    Ellen Ullman in some ways anticipates this kind of surveillance in her 1997 book “Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents.” She writes that after she installed a software system at a small insurance business, its owner wanted her to help him record all his office manager’s keystrokes:

    “The system was installed, it ran, and it spoke to him: you can know every little thing you always wanted to know. You can keep an eye on the woman you trusted to pick up your kids from kindergarten. You can count every keystroke, and you want to count them simply because it’s possible. You own the system, it’s your data, you have power over it; and, once the system gives you this power, you suddenly can’t help yourself from wanting more.”

    She writes that software can create desires its users never had before, affecting them as much as they affect it:

    “We think we are creating the system, but the system is also creating us. We build the system, we live in its midst, and we are changed.”

    In the near future, some Americans may see their actual jobs filled by machines. But others may experience something different: changes in the way they work as a result of new abilities their bosses now have, new ways to sort, schedule and watch them. In some cases, these changes may force workers out of their jobs — Ms. Ullmann worried that recording the office manager’s keystrokes might lead to her firing. But if she and other critics are right, they may also make these jobs more grueling, unpredictable or scary — or make it harder to do anything outside them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *