Alan Liu

in The Laws of Cool

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2004 | ISBN: 9780226486987
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226487007 | DOI:

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We can best approach the issue of informating by visiting two work locales of the early 1980s depicted in Shoshana Zuboff's In the Age of the Smart Machine (1988). The book provides a sketch of one work site paradigmatic of a new mode of blue-collar work and a matching description of the new white-collar office of the time. Mainframe computing inaugurated not only sweeping changes in infrastructure and work routine, but also the possibility of a whole new mentality of work. Zuboff coined the term “informating” to mean that computers generate an inescapably thick wrapping of second-order information (information acting on information) around the primary interface of information acting on matter where automation occurs. Informating thus means building into automation the capacity metaphorically (and soon literally) to see the systemic whole of technological rationality—to glimpse not just individual files but the entirety of what C. Wright Mills named by synecdoche the “Enormous File” of white-collar workers. An important issue is the relation of counterculture to the entire baseline relating mainstream to subculture and work to leisure.

Keywords: informating; Shoshana Zuboff; In the Age of the Smart Machine; blue-collar work; white-collar workers; mainframe computing; automation; technological rationality; counterculture; work

Chapter.  15197 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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