Brave New Economy Workplace

While reading No Collar by Andrew Ross I was struck by the language used to describe New Economy workplaces–language I recognized from dystopian novels such as We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The New Economy workplaces seemed to be striving towards a utopia in which the worker’s identity is tied inextricably to their job. Of course, it is ideal to work in a place that suits your interests, so that you are pursuing ideas related to your job outside the workplace in a way that is natural, and also pursuing interests when formally in the workplace. Yet, the obscuring of personal identities in the workplace is frightening and reminds me of many aspects of a dystopian novel. Most powerfully, the Razorfish employees being referred to as “fish.”

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Ross explicitly reference utopian communities when speaking about New Economy workplaces, writing, “The opportunity they provided for employees to reinvent themselves borrowed from the national heritage of utopian communities, while their appetite for spontaneity and self-direction owed something to the spirit of the bohemian commune.” (18) This opportunity for reinvention that Ross discusses seems to be an opportunity for self-effacement to the company. A Razorfish executive explained, “I dress like this because I represent the company. They represent the talent. I have to establish legitimacy with a client so that the dreadlocks can go work there.” (32) The executive is literally embodying the company, which is concerning when considering values of personal identity. Additionally, her comment about “the dreadlocks” is racist, and sets the notion that there is a certain person who follows the aesthetic and that anyone outside that is an ‘other.’

I am struck by the ways in which individual self-expression is effaced into the uniform identity of ‘worker.’ In dystopian novels such as We and Brave New World the citizens wear uniforms and are identified by the labor they can provide. This is not such a far cry from the Razorfish executive dressing as the company, embodying it to represent it to potential clients.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I believe this cover of Brave New World illustrates this phenomenon quite well– the merging of human and machine. When humans are made to embody production, as they are in the New Economy workplace, there are dire consequences for autonomy. Brave New World may be the forewarning of the Brave New Economy Workplace.

(Please appreciate my literary puns.)

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