The issues in the network society have attracted enormous attention in the recent times. Rather than totalizing coeval working experience, the book “Work’s Intimacy” written by Melissa Gregg focuses on the ramifications and contradictions of professionals that hold a mid-rank, formerly defined as the white-collar workers. Mobile and online technologies have a great impact on the work, life and social relations of the people, especially professionals. After examining 26 professionals from four organizations, namely, education, telecommunications, government and broadcasting in Brisbane, Australia for three years, Gregg’s book bridges the gap in the existing literature on digital labor. In other words, Gregg analyzes the convergence of financial, academic and political interests. Gregg uses the term “intimacy” to describe the shared work experience of the 26 professionals to formulate new definitions of work, domesticity and love. The author analyzes the contemporary condition of working with digital technologies and questions about the consequences that arise when the work, leaks beyond the traditional office space through digital technology.
In the introduction and all through chapter one of “Work’s Intimacy,” Gregg indicates the rise of salaried professionals in the twentieth century and clarifies the autonomy that attributes to the far-flung use of mobile technologies. On the other hand, Gregg realizes that it is technology that alleviated the work style and preferences of professionals (p. 9). The victory of neoliberalism and the generality of mobile technologies have reinforced the advancements in social networking and self-monitoring. The author feels that constant connectivity to work sparks positive feelings of freedom and flexibility; however, it leads to persistent anxieties to perform work professionally and in a timely manner. She critiques the discourse of work-life balance. Gregg argues that the term “flexible work place” is not apt all the time due to the irrelevance of time and place to work as there are certain projects with nonnegotiable deadlines for which there are no possibilities to reduce the amount of working time to flexible hours.
Gregg investigates the literature from William Whyte’s Organization Man of the 1950’s to C. Wright Mills’ White Collar to understand the conventional methods and shifts in the organization of modern workspace. In other words, Gregg points out the traditional continuities and shifts in the organization in regards to material social practice and experience of professionalism. The author effectively historicizes the link between social networking practices of the present time and that of the previous decades. Gregg feels that work in the digital, online age is a seduction that alleviates the exchange of cognitive labor at discounted costs to capital. She describes the notion of alienation with the celebration of status in the new workplace.
In chapter two, Gregg focuses on the concept of “work from home.” The author identifies the reasons as to why employees prefer to work from home. She also addresses about the challenges that prove to be difficult at times due to lack of support from the employer. Gregg says that although the convenience of working from home boosts the productivity, it is an economic burden to the employees to maintain the network infrastructure. Gregg, also mentions that the anxiety to keep abreast with colleagues through the exchange of emails is dominant among the professionals; however, the constant checking and sorting of emails degrades the term ““productive work” to “discount labor.” Gregg concentrates on the gender aspect of working from home and the precarious employment. In the third chapter, Gregg discriminates that the part-time workers and student workers are the ones who are at a high risk of falling prey to perilous working conditions and prolonged apprenticeship in the information industries. Gregg’s qualitative study observes the lack of definition of roles and positions of contract labor.
In chapter four, Gregg highlights the shift from the omnipotent surveillance at the top to the hegemonic rhetoric of teamwork. She mentions the levels of hierarchy involved in engaging with emails. The egalitarian spirit enforces compulsion on lower-rank employees fully aware of their duties and responsibilities to align to team priorities. One can observe the power of digital peer surveillance through lengthy e-mail correspondence among the fellow team members when the same e-mail goes as a carbon copy to the supervisors. The author discusses the emergence of email with respect to how it bothers the employees when they are not supposed to be on an email exchange. Employees have less face-to-face interactions once they complete a majority of the work online. The popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites among professionals partly explains their desire to escape the surveillance of formal e-mails (p. 100). Gregg claims that Facebook enforces a “coercive intimacy” through a hyperactive presence.
Gregg believes that the social networking sites help the professionals build friendship with their colleagues and interact with friends and family members during the workday. On the other hand, some professionals prefer to maintain a safe space on the Facebook against intrusions from work (pp. 97-99). Some professionals feel that maintaining online friendship in a genuine way is a luxury, while some others feel that online presence is a part of their job. Employees in public sectors utilize online as a medium of public relations to maintain publicity. Some public employees use online networks for strategic marketing; however, they overlook the workload caused by shifting the same content to different media and adopting new platforms.
In the part III of “Work’s Intimacy,” Gregg presents the most obliging stories of how the intimate relationship of the professionals with their work, challenges the traditional understandings of love and family. The author mentions about the gender divide evident in chapter seven. For career-driven women, work generates feelings of control and fulfillment to match the feelings provided by family life (p. 131). In this context, domesticity loses its function to discipline women. In the next chapter, Gregg focuses on the unpredictable work schedules of the on-call technicians, where they work under precarious working conditions. The author highlights the challenges faced by the on-call technicians on occasions where they need to attend the IT issues, especially when the family plans an outing on the weekends. The chapter restates the previous argument and feels like it is out of place the part III.
In the conclusion section, Gregg uses appropriate vocabulary to lay the foundation for contemporary labor politics. She mentions the slogan “love what you do,” addressed by Steve Jobs to the professional class at Stanford University commencement in 2005. Gregg believes that work and career ambitions entangle the language of love and passion. The professionals observed by Gregg proactively let their work overflow into intimate social relationships as opposed to the poorest workers at digital device assembly lines who have a little space to love their jobs. Subsequently, Gregg argues that the dissentious line between the “conflicting constraints, opportunities and freedom of the ‘lovers’ and the “loveless’” (p. 171). Gregg explains the personal cost of maintaining a new flexible workplace and its infrastructure.
The information expressed by Gregg in the book “Work’s Intimacy” more than fills its slim volume. The in-depth interviews conducted by the author contain a rich contextual knowledge, which give the book fabulously powerful voices and vibrate strongly on the sectors that Gregg never dealt. The increasingly impulsive ups and downs of the global economy, give more scope for questions rather answers. Gregg emphasizes the increasing importance of online branding of the self for employability in a flexible economy. The book is a timely critique that defines what work means for individuals and their families in a highly aesthetic economy. “Work’s Intimacy” provides a critical and empirical analysis of the contemporary politics and the work life that had an invasion by the new media technologies. There are several lessons that one can study from Gregg’s book. In regards to universities, Gregg mentions that universities are so out of date as to be pointless or counterproductive. She says that academics engage in self-exploitation, expectations and career ambitions.
After reading the book “Work’s Intimacy,” the reader feels a sense of urgency as to whether the ubiquity of the contemporary office described by Gregg can lead us anywhere more optimistic than a subtle communication grind that increases stress and anxiety. Gregg brings to the reader’s notice as to how online technologies put the professionals in a schizophrenic condition where they either sham presence or feign remoteness. Gregg highlights the possibilities of organizing work against a backdrop of the conflicting demands of reproductive labor that have enabled positive openings for female employees. She explains the feminist interpretations of emotional labor in which the ability to do things is personal achievement and the inability to do things as personal failure. Gregg was able to convey this message clearly and precisely to the readers.
The greatest strength of the book is the powerful way in which it deploys ethnographic evidence to describe flexible working practices that help to distract the function creep of modern information-based jobs. This kind of phenomenon symbolizes growth rather reshaping the work expectations. Gregg presents the ambiguities and contradictions of intimate work through the stories of several professionals. Gregg stresses the necessity for organizations to take responsibility in redefining workloads.
Gregg, Melissa. Work’s Intimacy. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2011.