Wither a deviant life

I’m not really someone whose daily activities fit neatly in the guidelines. You’re probably the same. I was standing in line at the bank yesterday with a woman who is.

She needed to withdraw money. But just too much money to do it from an ATM. The bank, as is its wont, has invested in a battery of smart ATMs at the front of the branch. It now only staffs one of the six counters inside. The ATMs can do basically anything you would need of a teller – withdraw, move and deposit money etc.

But the ATMs have hard limits and absolutely no room for discretion.

The long line of disgruntled customers waiting to see that lonely bank teller attest to how many of us needed the flexibility of a human. Something, someone, who isn’t absolutely constrained by rules. Except, does this describe any of us anymore?

…since Economic Man is incapable of being morally load-bearing, he cannot be trusted. He will only work if incentivized by material benefit, so his behaviour must be watched like a hawk, and his rewards linked to the observed performance of contract-specified actions… Britain’s employers have been taught this in business schools and the consequence is manifest in the annual Jobs and Skills Survey. Twenty-five years ago, most people said they had enough autonomy to do their job properly; that has since dropped by 40 per cent. The reduction of workers to automata has resulted in a massive loss of job satisfaction, and with it of intrinsic motivation: it is hard to be loyal to an organization that manifestly distrusts you. It has also forfeited the good judgement that comes from using tacit knowledge – the expertise that can only be acquired through experience. By definition, this cannot be codified, specified, monitored and incentivized.

This is from a great essay by Paul Collier. And it makes me wonder what the future holds for services even if they aren’t dominated by automation.

The metrification of daily life is well under way and is already visible in a reduction to box ticking. There is some discretion left in the world, but I have little doubt that the necessary surveillance and analytical technology will grow in leaps and bounds. The MBAs demand it.

So what does that mean for those of us who live a deviant life? Who need to withdraw just too much money, or otherwise travel outside the norm? Probably a lot more time on the phone, talking to similarly constrained call centre workers.

As always my emphasis