Read “ future-proof ” and reflect on the ways in which technology has made academic work worse

Future-proof: 9 rules for humans in the age of automation by Kevin Roose

Published in March 2021.

Future proof is a book that talks less about the future than about the present.

For readers close to “robots will or will not take all types of jobs” (count me), Future proof offers little original.

Those who are convinced that the future will be that of technological unemployment will not feel better after reading Future proof. Those who believe that society will adapt to new technologies by creating new types of jobs will not feel less confident in their beliefs either.

Future proof does a better job of providing guidance to those of us trying to deal with the unintended personal and professional consequences of digitization.

Roose, a tech reporter for the NYTimes, is outspoken in documenting all of the ways technology is making us miserable.

Future proof was drafted before the pandemic, so there isn’t a lot of data on non-stop digitally-mediated labor burnout. Worrying about phone addiction almost seems odd compared to Nonstop Zoom.

The areas of Future proof that I found particularly illuminating were Roose’s connections between “hustle culture” and digital platforms. Roose links personal productivity and life movements to the diminishing separation between our work and non-work. Our laptops, tablets and phones allow us to always work – with the result that we are constantly working.

Future proof would have benefited from a more in-depth analysis of the relationship between work and technology within specific industries.

No surprise, but I would have been delighted to read Roose trying to figure out how technology is changing college jobs.

In colleges and universities, almost all of the jobs that can be replaced by software have been eliminated. The results have not been good.

Today’s professors and senior staff devote a great deal of time and energy to the logistical work that administrative support professionals once did.

The creative and value-added work of education and the development of new educational programs must compete with the necessary work of coordination and administration.

Future proof focuses on how people can “protect themselves for the future”, both professionally and personally, against technology. And for this purpose, the book above all excels.

There is less in Future proof on how organizations could adapt to a smart AI world.

Going back to our example of higher education, I hope we can talk about the consequences of a technologically activated permanent understaffing. Just because we can handle things with a lean staff stance doesn’t mean we should.

The higher education ecosystem is diverse, but if one thing unites us it may be the growing mismatch between the amount of work to be done and the people available to do that work.

If your work day spans evenings and weekends and you live in fear of “key people” leaving, you are having a systemic problem rather than a local one. The causes and consequences of understaffing have more to do with macro-technological and cultural trends than with specific conditions in your school.

Future proof is thoughtful and entertaining read and worth your time if the book gets you thinking (and talking about) the potential impact of new technologies on how work will unfold in your institution.

Coming out of COVID, we need to talk about ways all academics can work differently. The pace at which we have been working throughout the pandemic is not sustainable. Technology has made our work more, not less intense. We have to find a better way.

What are you reading?


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About Perry Perrie

Perry Perrie

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