Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Working Class

It is a curious phrase, the "working class".  It means "the social group consisting of people who are employed for wages, especially in manual or industrial work."

If they are the working class, what are the knowledge workers?  And what about the Dilbert-esque managers of the knowledge workers?

Being one of the latter, I often wonder that despite the appearance of work, what we do merely re-arranges bits inside of a computer.  We manipulate information.  That information then eventually impacts something in the "real world" and transforms matter.

A programmer working for AirBnB helps create an app.  That app enables people to search for guest-rooms.  They use that app to book a particular room.  The app notifies the host.  The payment is made electronically.  The bank balance of the host increases while that of the guest decreases.  Eventually the guest travels and stays in that room.  In this way there is still some material "happening" in the end.

Consider a project manager for the Times of India website.  The reporter talks to real people, uses various online data resources, investigates, and writes a news report on a computer.  Say the report is about a government department's nepotistic hiring practices. The end result of the reporter's work is new forms of "information".  The project manager directs his staff to post the new information on the ToI website.  Once posted, it is available to read for anyone anywhere in the world with internet access.  After having ingested that new information, the reader talks about it to his friends, who then decide to picket the local government office.

A real "event" leading to another real event, mediated by information and information workers.


Information or Knowledge workers procure, manipulate or disseminate information.  In some cases their counter-party is a human being, but in many cases it is a machine.  For example, software programmers or systems administrators inform a computer on what it should do. 

The "working class" manipulates tangible matter.  They cook food, they drive trains, they make roads and build buildings, they repair machinery, they carry loads, ...

The social interaction between so-called working class and the knowledge workers is becoming rare.  Of course there is functional interaction.  You give your order to the waiter, and the waiter might be using the bank's call center to inquire about his recent paycheck.  But socially, these two categories of people rarely mix with each other.

I think that is a shame.

Charles Murray, in his marvelous, landmark book "Coming Apart", discusses just this phenomenon.  How the tastes, preferences, cultural pillars and much else between these two classes has become segregated and disjoint.

The cover page shows a glass full of champagne at the top, and a crumpled empty can of beer at the bottom.

An excerpt:
Many of the members of the new upper class are balkanized. Furthermore, their ignorance about other Americans is more problematic than the ignorance of other Americans about them. It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale professors. It is a problem if Yale professors, or producers of network news programs, or CEOs of great corporations, or presidential advisers cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers. It is inevitable that people have large areas of ignorance about how others live, but that makes it all the more important that the members of the new upper class be aware of the breadth and depth of their ignorance.

I highly recommend that you not just "empathize" or warmly smile at the next working class individual that you come across, but develop a deeper bond with some of them.

Invite your maid to dinner at your table, go have a drink with your driver, go and take your daughter to the birthday party of your mechanic's son, not as an act of condescending generosity, but something born out of genuine interest and affection for those individuals. 

You will find, as I often find, that their lives have much to teach you.  And that sharing in their experiencing of life will give you an unimaginably different perspective on your own life, and on the world in general.

1 comment:

Lubzy said...
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