The Workplace in The Digital Age

John Dewey once wrote: “Invent the printing press and democracy is inevitable.” Optimists might say: “Invent the internet and democratically organised work is inevitable.”

The sociologist Richard Sennett recently said that schools should be situated at the border between different urban districts to bring families together from different walks of life.

His suggestion was intriguing in its simplicity. Instead of complaining about social fragmentation or moralising about municipalities, Sennett asks how institutions could be designed so that the social interactions that hold our communities together would happen effortlessly and organically.

The question over what binds our societies is a pressing one. Issues such as migration, sexuality, and climate change divide us. Digital tools allow us to pick newsfeeds that reinforce our own views, allowing like-minded people to stick together – and reaffirm their biases.

There is, however, at least one area of life in which we still bridge divides: work. As Cynthia Estlund argues, workplaces are more diverse than many other social spaces and serve as an important sphere of social cohesion. Like the schools that Sennett imagines, workplaces can create contacts between people. But will the ties created at work continue to hold as digital technologies increasingly shape the labour market?

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