There is an interesting paper by Phil Brown and colleagues ‘Skills are not enough’ The basic thrust of Brown et al’s argument is that the world is now entering a second phase of globalisation (the first was in the 1980s and early 1990s), in which management and knowledge work is no longer the exclusive province of the developed work. In other words, whereas in the past it was only the unskilled jobs, e.g assembly work, that was outsourced to the developing world, whilst the control, research and development and business services remained in the Western Europe and North America; nowadays all of these functions can be found anywhere across the globe. Much of the intellectual labour as well as the manual and unskilled labour is now ‘outsourced’ to places like China and India, where highly qualified university graduates are doing jobs for a fraction of the cost that they would entail in Western Europe or North America.
And in case people think this is only about software development being shipped out to India, Brown et al give the example of a leading international law firm in the City of London who ‘off-shored’ the preparatory work in the development of high profile cases to the Philippines, so instead of having to pay £125k per year for a London lawyer, they get the same service for a fraction of the price. However, the key point here is that this form of ‘outsourcing’ can only work by the use of standardised processes and the use of sophisticated software to ensure confidentiality. And the management theory that stands behind this is what Brown et al call ‘Digital Taylorism’:
Just as mechanical Taylorism enabled companies to capture the knowledge of manual craft workers and re-configure it through the use of assembly lines to reduce the cost of manufacturing, Digital Taylorism, is providing similar opportunities for companies to reduce the cost of various kinds of knowledge work currently undertaken by middle class managers and professionals. Here, advances in computing power and software design are enabling companies to digitalise knowledge which can be utilised across the globe, wherever there is sufficiently educated labour. (p.15)
One of the key facets of Digital Taylorism is the ‘routinisation’ of knowledge: whereas in the past knowledge was essentially subjective, in the sense that it entailed the interpretation of information and data by human subjects, now it becomes objectified, through the creation of standards, routines, toolkits, which can be shared and implemented across the globe. And I couldn’t help thinking that we are now perhaps witnessing the spread of Digital Taylorism to the world of talking therapies, especially with the advent of computerised CBT. Of course the point is not that computerised CBT is an example of Digital Taylorism just because it’s computerised. Rather the point is that any therapy that is subjected to routinisation, standardisation, measurement, performance management, audit, i.e. that can be reproduced anywhere, regardless of the therapist, is a form of Digital Taylorism. This completely destroys psychotherapy as a lived experience based on a relationship between two human beings.