Technology As Control #WorkingOutLoud

Another #WorkingOutLoud post today as i continue writing the book: this is about ‘Technology’ being applied as a mechanism of control. It’s part of the ’16 Resistors of Change’. I share this, unedited, typos and all, as i’m trying to focus exclusively on the structure of the book and plugging some gaps this week. Feedback welcome. Enjoy…

The 16 Resisters of change

It’s a mistake to think that technology is simply about systems, devices, and other aspects of infrastructure: in fact it can be an indicator of mindset, agility and control. The core question here is what role technology serves within the organisation and how it is experienced on a day-to-day basis. Is technology experienced as a facilitating feature of organisational life, or experienced as a mechanism of control? Does the organisation subscribe to a model of heavyweight infrastructure, or lightweight, adaptive, and fluid technologies that can be swapped out at speed?

In Resistant organisations IT as a function is largely experienced as a mechanism of control: they are the people who give you your laptop when you start the job, and the people who tell you what you can do on that laptop whilst you have the job.When you leave the job, they are the people who take the laptop away from you.

In Resistant organisations there is a tendency technology to be locked down, that very expression being one that is used in prisons when we wish to restrict people’s movement. To go on lockdown is to hold everything in a perfect state of stasis.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation and Agility

There is a significant challenge if organisations: in the old world technology was expensive and complex, building and maintaining systems was difficult, so procurement decisions tend to be significant and semipermanent. That may still be true today for large offenders, but in social spaces, in our personal lives, something very different occurs. We are used to highly diverse ecosystems of apps where the barrier to entry of us trying a new piece of technology is very low, and the consequence of abandoning it almost non-existent. In this new space, we experiment more, and experimenting is a core feature of agility.

When technology is expensive and complex, organisations tends to move towards control. But the control that they exert often goes beyond simply keeping the system safe, or protecting valuable data. Often it veers into social engineering, veers towards censorship, or simply is expressed as a mean-spirited desire to stop people doing the things they want to do. In a world where people are answering emails from home, and engaged into organisational spaces whilst still on holiday, should we really be preventing them from booking a holiday whilst sat within an office, an office which is itself simply an artefact of a time gone by.

It’s this type of control which is most significant in the resistant organisation: the mindset of control based upon the false premise that the organisation still somehow owns people and has a right to control every action that they take. In age of portfolio careers, the gig economy, and a fractured Social Contract, we can attempt to exert control, we may even be able to enforce some control, but it is at the cost of engagement and contributes directly to the erosion of trust.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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