Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Working to death: Karoshi

On page A12 of Sunday's Washington Post, is a story titled, "Japan's Killer Work Ethic: Toyota Engineer's Family Awarded Compensation."  It talks about Karoshi, which is the Japanese term for dying as a result of working too much.  
Related to the story is that according to the last OECD figures, South Koreans have the longest work hours in the world: 
The average South Korean works 2,390 hours each year, according to the OECD. This is over 400 hours longer than the next longest-working country and 34% more hours than the average in the United States (1777). In Canada, the average of hours worked per year is 1717. A typical workweek in South Korea is 44 hours or longer. Most people start their day at 8am and end at around 7pm or later, often having dinner before returning to work. Until legislation in 2004 that virtually abolished the six-day workweek in large corporations known as "jaebol", South Korea was the only country in the OECD that worked Saturdays.
South Korea and Japan are the only countries where death by work or "karoshi" (과로사) is a recognized phenomenon. Their respective economic booms are not without consequence, but it's less fashionable to talk about than gadgets, I suppose. But it's the consequences that need the most coverage, and thought as to how to mitigate them. 
I believe that this has huge implications for how communication technologies are used (I include online gaming in this category), as work and play is increasingly blurred.  This phenomenon is articulated in Asia, sure, but one can see labour practices in the North American knowledge sector being affected as well. Think of the stereotypical Silicon Valley worker and the 60+ workweek necessary for basic "cred," with often little to no extra compensation except for the privilege of keeping one's job.  Vincent Mosco (Canada Research Chair in Communication and Society) published a book last year called, "Knowledge Workers in the Information Society" edited with Catherine McKercher on this very topic. 
Communication technologies, which are the primary vessels of knowledge labour, serve to blur the lines between work and leisure.  We therefore need to reassess how we think about work, leisure, plugging in, and being 'always on.'  Is it that the individual cannot control themselves, or is the expectation of one's (workplace) culture or society to be implicated in the process?Knowledge workers have not had an 'industrial revolution.' 
Speaking of always on, Vancouver sure wasn't at the start of the week with a power outage that hamstrung the business district on Monday, and continues. So much of our labour relies on electricity, that once we were without it, I just saw people wandering around downtown aimlessly... lost. Then they were told to go home.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

On spirituality and technology

Here's a story out of CBC talking about different ways people are tapping into spirituality through their various technologies available.  Also of note are the comments following the article, which are interesting for their own sake as well.  Is God just a "mouse-click" away, or...?

Here's a taste of the article's contents: 

How far can the online world go spiritually? It appears heaven is the limit. allows users the opportunity to send God a letter. It's just one of several websites providing the opportunity for online confessions. A study by Georgetown University in 2005 showed a significant decline in Catholics going to confession, but perhaps they have started visiting sites such as or where users are invited to "confess your soul," and, where users can ask for forgiveness.

Even the church collection plate is becoming obsolete. Online giving, which allows congregations to donate, is now the standard. And while the lines between the virtual world and that of the spiritual one may seem blurred, it won't replace the good old-fashioned church service.

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