Work with Bits and Bytes: The Impact of Digitalization on the World of Work

Work with Bits and Bytes. The Impact of Digitization on the World of Work.


Current debates dealing with the changes in work attract notice to the digitization of work. The saying of a „digital revolution“ (Rifkin 2011) or the „second machine age“ (Brynjolfsson/McAfee 2014) compare the dimension of these changes with those of the industrial revolution. “Digital capitalism” (Schiller 2001) or “informational capitalism” (Castells 1996) brand information and communication technology (ICT) based capitalist economies. Digitalism instead of postfordism seems to be the new paradigm. The tension of this discussion is pending between a beautiful new working world with more freedom, an amelioration of working conditions and more selfdetermination for all on the one hand and more control and competition on the other hand. Objects of labour were digitized (and informatized) and at least virtual. This is leading to an anytime, everywhere availability. The use of cloud-based co-working solutions is doing a global „information space“ (Boes/Kämpf 2010). It allows an enormous flexibilization of working time and space (Roth-Ebner 2015). An era of “virtual freedom” (Ducker 2014) seems to be on the horizon, where everybody can individually use the capabilities of the new technologies in a fruitful way - the platform economy stand for these changes.

In addition to the opportunities of these changes, negative developments are also being addressed. A decay of established industrial relations is expected in “digital labour” (Frayseé/O’Neil 2015). New forms of work like “crowdworking” (Benner 2013), cloud working or micro work are discussed leading to a precarization of employee groups in terms of an evolution of a new global class, the “cybertariat” (Huws 2003). Further a branch of discussion carries out between the poles intelligent machines and man (Brynolfsson/McAfee 2014; Frey/Osborne 2013; Levy/Murnane 2005; Pfeiffer 2015).

Beyond dispute, new forms of communication and cooperation, new platform based business models and new modes of work are evolving, but it is obvious that the outcomes may neither be that positive nor that clearly than the current debate suggests. My contribution to the „Reshaping Work“ conference will be a comparison between ‚old‘ and ‚new‘ forms of work and its consequences and implications. This paper is based on our own research results and recent study results in order to assess whether we need a new working concept. It also takes into account existing designs for digital work or virtual work and fosters the conceptual clarification of differences and meanings of informatization, digitalization and virtualization.

Dr. Mascha Will-Zocholl
Hessian University of Police and Public Administration, Wiesbaden (Germany)