Virtual Work is still Work

Edit: Sorry I’ve been gone for so long! I had some pet-sitting to take care of and my main laptop has been on the fritz. I will get better at posting here when I think there could be long delays in my posts.

No no no, not that kind of Avatar!

There’s been  different reformist ideas I’ve challenged about how to make work more bearable for us all. Some of them make more sense than others but one particularly interesting idea I looked at today was virtual reality. The general idea is to make it so the meeting room is more accessible to workers.

There’s some good reasoning behind this. For example, people would not have to rely on their cars or owning one in general. For poor folks like me it’s hard to get a job because it’s difficult to have a car without being massively in debt. Take into consideration people with disabilities and their inherent difficulties with cars and you have another group of folks who could be helped by making work more virtual.

There’s other easy to see benefits as well. There would be less fossil fuels, less stress about trying to get through traffic. You’d only have to (maybe) struggle with your Internet connection and even then, for many people that will not be a big enough deal. Most poor folks (at least the ones I know and have known) usually have internet, while their history of actually owning a car can be sketchy at best or is costing them a fortune in fees.

And so a move like this would benefit not only people who care about the environment, people who are disabled or have mental health issues related to driving (e.g. high levels of anxiety) or folks who do not have a lot of money, but those people who rely on those folks to have money for things like rent could possibly get it easier.

As such, this idea has some promise. It sure would be nice if I didn’t have to physically show up to my job and could just be a vat in a tube. I’d much rather just have my avatar go to the shitty store I work at. This way I don’t have to deal with customers in any real way. As someone who deals with a lot of social anxiety and communication issues (at times), I’d be pretty thankful that my spoons might not go away as quickly as they do now.

But that said, would this kind of technology be any good outside of an office environment? I wonder how it could even be implemented in a retail environment. As I’ve mentioned before, in the fantastic game series Mass Effect (specifically 2) there are vendors who work alongside robots but even then people seem to want flesh and blood beings to work with.

I know that many times when I’m calling a phone system that they are not good enough. I need a specific sort of help and a specific question(s) answered. And those specifics are usually handled faster and better than an automated system over the phone is going to operate. Although who knows? Maybe that could change in the next 20 years or less.

At any rate, I can’t imagine this proposal in practice doing much to help all of the people I just mentioned. In particular with poor people and not having to go to work to go to meetings. I’m not saying that poor people never work office jobs (this is patently untrue) but the kinds of jobs that have tons of meetings tend to be middle class jobs, from my understanding. I could be wrong about this (I’ve only worked in retail, not office jobs) but that’s my impression.

This also isn’t to say that helping these lower-middle class and above folks are not important. But I think it’s important in more ways to help folks who are struggling more than them. And while it may especially help people who go from their home to their office an exclusively work on computers all day, I’m not sure what percentage of the workforce that is.

I know in retail that you have to physically interact with the products, for one thing. It’s usually good to have someone restocking merchandise and putting it away. It’s also advantageous to have people who can physically take care of the money and handle the safe as well as other physical based functions. How would this coalesce?

Perhaps this virtual work reform is only supposed to adhere to the narrow group I’ve mentioned before. But if so, not only is the suggestion fairly unhelpful to large swaths of folks but it’s also not going to do much to work itself. Because, really, the biggest problem here is that making work a virtual reality doesn’t make it any less of a harsh one.

Bosses, hierarchy, emotional self-regulation and the other many problems associated with modern day work do not simply go away because we make the worker a virtual one. There are some comments under the video I checked out that I found informative but especially the comment about emotional regulation. If the avatar is programmed to display emotions how you actually feel there could be a lot of issues if you work a bullshit job.

And that’s another problem: Who are these avatars deigned for? And by who? Is it in the interests of maximizing these noble goals such as relieving stress, helping the environment and generally making our lives easier? At one point during the video I was hearing a lot more about increasing productivity than it actually improving the worker’s lot in life.

Unfortunately there’s too many questions, not enough answers and where there may be other answers to fill in those gaps I suspect they will be disatisdfactory. These kinds of reforms are made with the end result to be that we’re all as productive as we can be and hooked up to work as our lives even more than we already are.

One of my co-workers already (half-jokingly) sometimes says, “Welcome home!” when I come in.

I want a world where my response isn’t, “No way, my house is way dingier than this!”

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