16.162 new book on digitization and work

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Sun Aug 18 2002 - 13:47:53 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 162.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2002 10:45:45 -0700
             From: Willard McCarty <w.mccarty@btinternet.com>
             Subject: digitization and work

    Humanists interested in the broader effects of online communications will
    likely be glad for the following newly published book by a former Secretary
    of Labor in the U.S. government: Robert Reich, The Future of Success:
    Working and Living in the New Economy (Vintage, 2002; also published
    electronically). The book is reviewed by Paul Seabright, in the London
    Review of Books 24.16, 22 August 2002, pp. 24f.

    The reviewer asks what is genuinely new? Among other things, he notes the
    standardization of procedures within organizations, "enabling knowledge of
    them to be transmitted from one individual to another without the
    apprenticeship of the craft tradition. This is not a new phenomenon -- it's
    a pretty good description of what made the Roman army so much more powerful
    than its predecessors and rivals...." What is new, however, are two aspects
    of this communication of organizational method: (1) standardization to
    higher orders of flexibility; and, note well, (2) recording of
    standardization in digital form, hence ease and breadth of transmission.
    "To learn the Roman Army's procedures you had to be a Roman soldier,
    whereas to copy a rival firm's accounting system you just have to buy (or
    pirate) its software."

    By higher flexibility the reviewer means that whole processes of production
    can be standardized in such a way as to allow the individual steps to be
    modified. In scholarly work we are nowhere near that kind of thing -- for
    quite obvious reasons. But what is implied about computerization -- that
    its subject is the method by which things are done -- should be deeply
    familiar. Perhaps because Reich's concern is with the economics of
    industrial production , which is already mechanical and so more easily
    digitized than scholarship, he does not (apparently, from the review) talk
    about the discrepancy between human understanding and actual implementation
    -- as we must. The argument gives us, however, a way of talking about what
    we do to the public.


    Dr Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities
    King's College London
    London WC2R 2LS
    +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980
    willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk w.mccarty:btinternet.com

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