The United States is one of the high-tech nations of the world, yet our productivity has hovered around a measly two percent per year for almost a decade. In the depths of the great recession that made a sort of sense, but the “recovery” from the recession has been anemic, to say the least. With all this technology, shouldn’t we be doing better?
Well… in manufacturing, productivity has to be up, whether the statistics show it or not, considering we’re producing more with fewer workers, and that has to mean greater output per worker. Despite the precipitous drop in the price of crude oil, the oil industry is almost maintaining output with far fewer rigs drilling and far fewer workers.
But perhaps what matters is what technology is productive and how it is used. I ran across an article in The Economist discussing “collaboration” with statistics indicating that electronic communications were taking more than half the work-week time of knowledge workers, and that more and more workers ended up doing their “real work” away from work because of the burden of dealing with electronic communications such as email and Twitter. And, unhappily, a significant proportion of the added burden comes under the “rubric” of accountability and assessment. But when you’re explaining what you’re doing and how you’re accountable, you’re not producing.
This is anything but the productive use of technology, and it may provide even greater incentive for businesses to computerize lower-level knowledge jobs even faster than is already happening. It just might be that, if you want to keep your job, less email is better. But then, if your boss doesn’t get that message as well, that puts you in an awkward position. I suppose you could console yourself, once you’re replaced by a computerized system, that your supervisor will soon have no one to badger with those endless emails demanding more and more status reports… before he or she is also replaced by an artificial intelligence.
We’ve already learned, despite the fact that too many Americans ignore the knowledge, that texting while driving runs a higher risk of causing fatalities than DUI. Will the supervisory types ever learn that excessive emailing may just lead not only to lower productivity, but eventual occupational suicide?