The Adaptation of Everyday Work in an Age of Automation

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Recent debates around the future of work have largely focused on how automated technologies are contributing to job loss or decline. However, in this paper, we draw from original ethnographic research with four types of automation-affected workers – insurance agents, pharmaceutical representatives, medical device salespeople, and medical device technicians – to argue that, rather than being replaced by machines, many workers are in fact adapting how they define and perform their work to survive in a more digital age. Uncovering such adaption tactics is crucial for recognizing the human agency that is present in, even definitive of increasing encounters with machine-driven technologies and can help large organizations solve some of their toughest challenges, including how to predict future trends in the labor market, define the added value of human labor, build and train a better workforce, and develop and evolve existing digital tools.

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