12 Feb It’s not paranoia if it’s real!
Ya don’t say!
“As white-collar workers enjoy a bit of distance from the office, some employers have taken to spying on them to make sure work is getting done. Eight of 10 major private employers in the U.S. are tracking productivity, the New York Times revealed in a bombshell report on the trend last year. That involves everything from tracking keyboard activity to active time, which could result in missed bonuses or promotions.” -Fortune, Ibid.
8 out of 10? If it were me, I would assume it’s 10 out of 10. The technology is easy for these employers to use and IMO, it’s pretty simple for them to create an ultimatum: stay at home and be relentlessly watched OR c’mon back to the office and be surveilled in a more benevolent way.
Fortune references an article from the BBC:
“How worker surveillance is backfiring on employers
An increasing number of companies are monitoring their employees. The problem? It’s often doing more harm than good.” –https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20230127-how-worker-surveillance-is-backfiring-on-employers
“Before the pandemic, Mark had a lot of autonomy in his job in the IT department of a US industrial firm. He and his teammates were able to get their work done, he says, ‘without our manager doing much, you know, managing.’
That changed abruptly when the company transitioned to working from home. ‘The monitoring started on day one,’ says Mark, whose surname is being withheld for career concerns. The company began using software that enabled remote control of employees’ systems, and Mark says his team had to give their manager the password ‘so he could connect without us having to accept. If the password changed, he requested it by email first thing in the morning.'” -BBC, Ibid.
Started on Day 1. I bet it did!
“The surveillance, explained Mark’s manager, was aimed at making sure everyone stayed productive and had the same kind of open communication they’d had in the office. In reality, it made Mark anxious, and contributed to him quickly feeling overworked and burnt out. ‘It was just stressful, feeling that I had to be actively using the computer at all times for fear of him thinking something like a phone call or bathroom break was me slacking off,’ he says.” -BBC, Ibid.
How dare you need to use the toilet, peon! This anxiety is a very real, palpable thing and it’s nothing new. Quite frankly, it’s part of how a panopticon works (or in our modern case, a digital panopticon) and it generates this fear so that you police yourself.
“What makes a surveillance system effective in controlling human behavior is the knowledge that one’s words and actions are susceptible to monitoring. This principle was at the heart of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s 18th century conception of the panopticon, a building design he believed would allow institutions to effectively control human behavior. The building structure was to be used, in his words, for any sort of establishment in which persons of any description are to be kept under inspection… its primary architectural innovation was a large central tower from which every room or classroom or ward could be monitored at any time by guards. The inhabitants however, were not able to see into the tower and so could never know whether they were or were not being watched. Since any institution was not capable of observing all of the people all of the time, Bentham’s solution was to create the apparent omnipresence of the inspector in the minds of the inhabitants. The persons to be inspected should always feel themselves as if under inspection, at least as standing as great a chance of being so they would thus act as if they were always being watched, even if they weren’t. The result would be compliance, obedience and conformity with expectations.” –No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald (emphasis mine)
If you feel like you are being watched all the time – or could be watched – you will toe the line as your boss wants you to.
“A 2021 study from internet-security tool ExpressVPN of 2,000 employers and 2,000 employees working remotely or on a hybrid schedule showed that close to 80% of bosses use monitoring software. They think, ‘More and more and more, let’s use all these tools at our disposal.’ They want to have as much control as possible. And yet, of course, for employees, that control can often times feel oppressive – David Welsh.” -BBC, Ibid.
This is another pattern we see in Greenwald’s book – it’s not about some control, some surveillance, some data – it’s about ALL of it. I’m reminded of Cobra Commander in GI Joe Retaliation when the world leaders ask him what he wants and he hisses, “I WANT IT ALL.” Fiction isn’t so far removed from reality, n’est-ce pas?
“A former administration official who worked with the NSA chief told [reporter Shane] Harris that ‘Alexander’s strategy’ was clear: ‘I need to get all of the data.’ And, Harris added, ‘He wants to hang on to it for as long as he can.’ Alexander’s personal motto, ‘Collect it all,’ perfectly conveys the central purpose of the NSA.” -Glenn Greenwald, Ibid. referencing Keith B. Alexander
Do you not think Corpo America possesses the same agenda?
“Some companies, for instance, have installed time-clocks that scan an employee’s fingerprint to clock them in and out. Some use webcams to collect data on eye movement, which is used to track an employee’s attention.” -BBC, Ibid.
Wow. So that’s like the dystopian cartoon the WEF dropped about tracking your brain waves at work. Don’t believe me? See for yourself: https://www.weforum.org/videos/davos-am23-ready-for-brain-transparency-english
“Still, says Levy, other companies aren’t just watching what employees are doing in a given moment, but also using that information to anticipate what they might do, through “predictive analytics about whether a worker is likely to, for example, ask for a raise or leave for another job”. Software that monitors employee search history – and even social media – can reveal they’re on the job hunt, and trackers that capture things like tone of voice can indicate a worker’s level of engagement.” -BBC, Ibid.
“The story reflects many of Philip K. Dick’s personal Cold War anxieties, particularly questioning the relationship between authoritarianism and individual autonomy. Like many stories dealing with knowledge of future events, ‘The Minority Report’ questions the existence of free will. The title refers to the dissenting opinion of one of the precogs.” –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Minority_Report
Philip K. Dick published that story in 1956. Arthur C. Clarke published his book Childhood’s End in 1953. Lest you assume these tales are merely in the realm of science fiction, I beg to differ. “But perhaps the best known of Clarke’s three laws is the third, which has inspired multiple variations. It appeared in a footnote in his 1973 revision of Profiles of the Future: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.'” –https://www.newscientist.com/definition/clarkes-three-laws/
If these things seem farfetched to you, remember that sci-fi often becomes completely possible as the years go by.
“The monitoring made the subjects feel a lack of agency and responsibility, says Welsh, which led to bad behaviour. They were more likely to cheat while being watched because they “felt like they were being controlled, and they had less of a sense of personal responsibility because of how they were being monitored”, he says. It’s a phenomenon difficult to quantify, but more straightforward to understand: when workers aren’t afforded dignity and agency, they suffer. They often subvert workplace rules to get back a sense of control.
Welsh, too, says he confirmed ‘this counterintuitive idea that monitoring could actually lead people to break the rules more in some circumstances, or create the very types of behaviours it was designed to prevent.'” -BBC, Ibid.
So one potential solution is to herd everyone back to the office where the surveillance cameras are less obvious. Rather than having an IT tech remote into your computer and very clearly absolve your privacy in front of you, if you go back to the cube farm, the cameras are hidden from your view and perhaps you can relax a bit more in the cubicle. Well, for now anyway. Once they start reading your brain waves and reporting it to the boss, you’re screwed. But I digress.
Under the heading “A better way to watch,” which is freakin’ ghastly to me, we find:
“The data showed monitoring employees offered no benefits, and instead damaged workplace culture and spurred counterproductive behaviour. Workers are, unsurprisingly, not thrilled with that kind of overreach, and it could push them out of those monitored jobs. A 2022 Morning Consult survey of 750 tech workers showed that half would rather quit than have their employer monitor them during the workday. . . .
There may also be ways to make being monitored a less objectionable experience for workers. If employers are transparent and upfront about the necessity and purposes of monitoring, Spiegel and Welsh’s studies both showed the negative effects are greatly reduced. . . .
There is a way, then, for employers to feel like they know what people are up to without the alienating employees. The biggest improvement, says Levy, is involving the workers. ‘A clear place to start is, in a meaningful way, to bring workers into the process of determining what technology will be used, how the data it collects will be treated and who will have access to those data, and really thinking through how the technology can help workers to accomplish their work, rather than as a threat or a policing tool.'” -BBC, Ibid.
I see. So there’s no argument against monitoring people and treating them like thieves or small children. It’s about doing it in a way that they’ll find less objectionable. Sounds rather like linguistic programming or a psyop to me. On Thursday’s podcast episode, I spoke in more detail about whether anyone still cares about the revelations we find in No Place to Hide. The information that was so provocative and jaw-dropping a decade ago is probably ho-hum to most people now. I think most people nowadays simply accept mass surveillance as the price we pay to live and work in the digital age.
And not surprisingly, this has found its way into offices and remote work.