Increasing numbers of American businesses are using NSA-type surveillance technology to monitor employee behavior on a minute-by-minute basis. The data gathered by these monitors will be used to create algorithms for judging in advance which employees will be productive and which won’t.
One striking example of this technology is the Hitachi Business Microscope, a device that resembles an employee name tag. An HBM can generate data on how an employee spent their day, when they stood up and sat down, when they nodded their heads, waved their arms, pointed their fingers or stretched, who they talked to and in what turn of voice, when they went to the bathroom or coffee machine and how long they spent doing it.
Hitachi says this data can be used to maximize “employee happiness.” I can think of less benign potential uses.
The HBM is part of a new industry of manufacturers and consultants that purport to use surveillance technology to improve employee productivity.
I question how much improvement will actually take place. Data is only useful to those who know how to interpret it correctly. Having more data than you can comprehend is counter-productive.
What the new surveillance technology will do is to increase managerial control, which most managers fail to realize is an entirely different thing.
Developments like this make me glad I’m 77 years old and retired. The great thing about being a newspaper reporter during the 40 years I worked in journalism was that you were free to do your job as you saw fit, and were judged by results.
I remember talking to some machinists for Eastman Kodak Co. in the late 1970s, who marveled that I in my job as a newspaper reporter was not only free to go to the bathroom without asking permission, but also to get up at will and go to the vending machine for cup of coffee.
Later on I was thankful not to be a telephone operator, telemarketer and customer service representative, who was monitored on whether he or she followed scripts and completed calls within an allotted time, or a data processor, whose work was measured keystroke by keystroke.
But the new technology takes workplace surveillance to a whole new level. It is like the difference between Tsarist Russia and Soviet Russia.