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Are Smartphones Creating a New Digital Underclass?


It’s hard to picture life without smartphones. We use them for everything: scheduling meetings, answering emails, flinging angry birds. But our go-to gadgets might be threatening our careers. Here’s how.

A recent article in Salon examined the ways in which iPhone apps are creating a “new digital underclass” of workers who are constantly monitored and poorly paid.

“While there have been many reports on the often miserable working conditions at the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, which manufactures iPhones, it’s easy to see the convenient smartphone apps as labor savers for us,” writes A.M. Gittlitz. “But another layer of the smart technology’s impact on labor has rarely been discussed: the way certain applications have revolutionized domestic labor — especially in the service sector — and how the workers toiling behind the slick interface of a shopping app are not unlike the hidden short-order cook of an automat.”

Among the examples Gittlitz cites: delivery people who get lower tips on app-based orders than they’d get face-to-face, and cleaning people who work for companies that schedule them online, without ever communicating in person. The ability to order up labor without ever speaking to another human insulates both paying customers and management from feeling any sense of responsibility toward workers, who wind up underpaid and overscheduled.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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