Scientific Management – “The Actor Is Subjected To A Series of Optical Tests”

Posted: April 9, 2019 in Uncategorized

Scientific management provoked a backlash. Aldous Huxley satirised it in “Brave New World” (1932), as did Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” (1936).


Production efficiency methodology that breaks every action, job, or task into small and simple segments which can be easily analyzed and taught. Introduced in the early 20th century, Taylorism (1) aims to achieve maximum job fragmentation to minimize skill requirements and job learning time, (2) separates execution of work from work-planning, (3) separates direct labor from indirect labor (4) replaces rule of thumb productivity estimates with precise measurements, (5) introduces time and motion study for optimum job performance, cost accounting, tool and work station design, and (6) makes possible payment-by-result method of wage determination.

Digital Taylorism

Digital Taylorism, also known as New Taylorism, is a modern take on the management style known as classic Taylorism or scientific management. Digital Taylorism is based on maximizing efficiency by standardizing and routinizing the tools and techniques for completing each task involved with a given job. Digital Taylorism involves management’s use of technology to monitor workers and make sure they are employing these tools and techniques at a satisfactory level.

The latest scandal to emerge from Amazon’s warehouses centers on the company’s newly patented wristband, which gives it the ability to track and record employees’ hands in real time. Some have described the technology as a “dystopian” form of surveillance. Amazon has countered that journalists are engaging in “misguided” speculation. To hear the retail giant tell it, all the device does is move its inventory-tracking equipment from workers’ hands to their wrists — what’s the big deal?

Given the level of surveillance and regimentation already in place in Amazon warehouses, the company isn’t completely off base. Currently, warehouse workers called pickers carry a scanner that directs them from product to product. All shift they race the countdown clock, which shows them how many seconds they have to find the item, place it in their trolley, and scan the barcode.

A variation on this method exists in warehouses where robots bring the shelves to workers. There, workers stand in place as stacks of products present themselves one by one. For ten and a half hours, they must stoop and stretch to retrieve an item every nine seconds. The scanners control workers’ behavior by measuring it, preventing slowdowns and allowing managers to create new performance benchmarks. Quick workers raise the bar for everyone, while slow workers risk losing their job.

The wristbands introduce a wrinkle to this regimentation, monitoring not just the task but the worker herself.

  1. Aleah Griffin says:

    I read “Brave New World” in high school and thought it eerily accurate to today’s world, considering how long ago it was written. It focuses on complete control of everyone, down to their exact job, intelligence level, and ideas. But they don’t use force to achieve this result; they use distractions.

    This idea of Taylorism (like a “cookie cutter” assembly line) more than anything, decreases the sense of uniqueness that used to be a part of most art. People and art are being managed in a way to be the most efficient and productive as possible, to the point that every little detail and action is controlled. While this is good for maximizing efficiency and output, the question is how it affects the people and culture, because they aren’t robots. It’s concerning to see the lack of originality and surplus of control that is growing in the world.

    • A relatively benign view of things would be to see the robotization of human labor as an unfortunate price which must be paid in or to have cheap and readily available necessities. A less benign view would be to see the robotization of human labor as a means of creating cheap and readily available nonsense. A much dark view would be to see the robotization of human labor as an end until itself.

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