Don’t touch you We must not physically touch others in order not to contaminate them. We cannot touch others internally because the faces are partially sealed by the masks and it is the face that allows access to the other. Le visage de l’autre m’interpelle, wrote Emmanuel Levinas; it challenges my affection, my responsibility. But it is not just the fight against the pandemic that endangers the various bonds that bind people and make up society. It is also the technology and the uncritical form in which it is adopted. Especially in the world of work.
The body and the bonds
I do not use the term narcissism in its sense of psychological pathology, but in its aspect of lack of empathy, difficult relationship with others, and lack of solidarity. For Levinas, encountering another person’s face is immediately ethical; it is a call to accountability for the other; It is the window through which we can approach the other from within. Some philosophers say we are facing a crisis of sensitivity; Insensitivity to others, insensitivity to the destruction of nature.
The bonds that connect us with others and the natural world go through the body, through physical presence and encounter. To say that a Zoom class or meeting is the same as a class or in-person meeting is like saying that listening to a live concert is like listening to recorded music. You can’t feel the difference.
With regard to work, it should be noted that the “essential workers” who are so called because they are considered essential for the functioning of the unit in times of pandemic (DL No. 10-A / 2020) are precisely those who do this continue to meet other people physically. Those who can be locked up have access to the unit. Note that most key workers receive and continue to receive the minimum wage as their “productivity” remains low as their work is not digitized.
Digitization and fragmentation of the world of work
This increase in physical and social distance between those who work with the body and others is a feature of the polarization of employment that I mentioned earlier. Several studies show a polarization between professions whose productivity – and thus their salary – increases with digitization, and professions that are not affected by digitization, such as B. Social services whose salary is falling in relative terms. Polarization is one aspect of the fragmentation of the world of work for which I will give a few examples.
Digital platforms like Uber and Bolt use algorithms to manage employees and deny them their status as employers. As a result, they cannot take responsibility for their social security, unemployment protection, occupational accident coverage and compliance with the minimum wage. In South Korea, couriers die of exhaustion. Another perverse effect of these jobs is the fact that customers become “bosses”. When evaluating the Uber / Bolt driver, the customer evaluates the schedule, friendliness and behavior of the driver as if they were his subordinate, and the given grade determines the continuation or extermination of the driver from the platform. How many of us are aware of this? The driver becomes invisible as a worker and as a person; we don’t let ourselves be touched.
Teleworkers do not know that thanks to “essential workers” – invisible workers – they survive. So it is about this invisibility and the lack of responsibility for the other that are connected with it, in order to promote a society in which the beneficiaries settle comfortably in social isolation. Social differences are accentuated, society is fragmented. The forms of division of labor that emerge with digitization increase social insensitivity.
We are witnessing the triumph of digital capitalism in complete disagreement with the real economy. GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) strengthened their hegemony with the pandemic. As thousands of stores closed, Amazon’s profits rose 53% and stocks rose 65%. Jeff Bezos became the richest man in human history. Unlike precarious workers, many millionaires get rich when the economy grows and even richer when the economy is in crisis.
“There are only a few people who know that there are others,” said Simone Weil. We must avoid creating a society of separate, non-committal, self-serving individuals, a society where mass narcissism prevails
I am not denying the tremendous benefits digital technologies bring to all areas of our lives, but social bonds are at stake, that is, the cement of society. Decisions about the use of technology must not be left to market mechanisms and private powers. We cannot give up thinking about the future and making decisions about the society we want. Measures are required to create solidarity and to integrate the “invisible” into the perception of our common fate. Solutions have emerged that need to be generalized.
Trade unions like IG Metal in Germany have found innovative ways to give collective platform workers a voice. The state of California decided in 2020 to force Uber to enter into employment contracts with drivers. Government agencies can regulate digital companies through health and safety laws and certification (Sweden will certify relay companies). They can also encourage appreciation of the salaries of “essential” workers so that income reflects their contribution to the community. The pay hierarchy is a political issue that reflects the extent of a society’s values.
Another solution lies in generalizing co-determination as a form of corporate management, since the organization of work and the distribution of income (e.g. the CEO’s salaries) can be most effectively controlled, that is, in companies. At Amazon, employees have asked to help develop the algorithms that are used to manage and control them. Amazon has consistently rejected this.
In view of the risk of social fragmentation associated with digitization, everyone must be held accountable – citizens, trade unions, companies, authorities. “There are only a few people who know that there are others,” said Simone Weil. We must avoid creating a society of separate, non-committal, self-serving individuals, a society where mass narcissism prevails. Touch yourself.
The author writes under the new spelling agreement