Being a Model Employee

“Do you know why they are tracking you? They want to replace you with robots.” – Rupa, “The Model Employee”

(Source: Businessweek, April 2020)

Are you a model employee?

If Jeff Bezos had the technology, he would replace his Amazon workers with robots, smart robots. Think about: These robots do not get sick; they can work 24/7; they can fulfill every Whole Food or Amazon Fresh order. They do not complain. Therefore, capitalists, motivated by profits, may consider robots as model employees. In the future, CEOs may require employees to wear a tracking device to measure their productivity. Presently, Wegmans requires employees to undergo a temperature check before a shift. If the employee has a fever of 100, then they are required to go home. The wellness checks went into effect without any employee or public outcry. It may start with wellness checks, then what is next? Corona tracking wristbands? I wonder, Why couldn’t the employees check their temperatures? Is it necessary to have your employer check your temperature for you? What happened to employer-employee trust? 

In Dr. Sava Singh’s short film “Model Employee,” the protagonist Neeta who works part-time in a local restaurant, agrees to wear a tracking wristband so she can earn her bonus to buy D.J. equipment. Throughout the day, the Model Employee app, just like Big Brother, chides the employee throughout her shift:

“Remember to upsell. Ask them if they want to buy drinks.”

“There is a spill in the kitchen.”

“Remember to fulfill the UnberEats orders.”

The Model Employee Apps rates the employee on efficiency and profitability. However, the app cannot rate the employee on customer service. Was the employee courteous? Did she say, “Welcome” and “Thank you for coming?’ Did the employee know that patrons’ names? Did the employee engage in conversation with her patrons? For a local restaurant, it is crucial to cultivate relationships with their customers, especially when restaurant choices are abundant.

What about less personal businesses such as a warehouse filled with factory workers? Will drone technology and self-driving cars replace UPS, FedEx, and UPS drivers. In light of the federal government’s rejection of the Post Office’s bailout, it appears that Big Brother does not value the work of the post office. (See Washington Post article.) Will some workers be eventually placed by machines? Are they aware that they may be replaced by “model employees”? They will not get a golden parachute; they may need to retool at an older age. Are they mentally prepared for the new A.I. reality?

The new reality is that a robot can replace your job. When preparing young students like Rupa, educators and parents need to keep in mind that certain professions will be obsolete. Imagine a world without the mailman, the grocery clerk, the waiter, the taxi driver, the warehouse worker, the pharmacist, so forth. Capitalists and technocrats are analyzing human behavior and building machines that will eventually replace human workers. 

Another ethical dilemma that the film evokes is the separation of private versus public: the employer, Mr. Singh, recommends that Neeta sleeps with her tracking device. The line between our public and private lives is blurred. We are tied and bounded to our job and more so during the pandemic. I feel as though I am always on my laptop, checking email, responding to email, lesson planning, grading, reading, working. Our employers are monitoring us at all times. While working remotely, our I.T. department watches us via our laptops. In a way, our work-issued laptops are our tracking devices.

In a way, I admire the protagonist Neeta. She can separate her work life from her private life. She has a clear separation of public-private. After work, she changes her clothes and heads to the “seedy part of town.” While dancing and playing music, Neeta is free from Big Data and work. I need to learn to separate my work-life from our private-lives. I need to allow myself to stop work for a couple of hours. I am experiencing fatigue from the monotony of rolling out of bed, checking my email, responding to my email, grade, checking my graduate school email, reading, writing, making lunch and dinner, foraging for food on Instacart, Amazon Fresh, watching the news, then going for a walk. The next day, repeat.

Sadly, it appears that when the protagonist tries to game the system, Big Data always wins. Will our work-life win over our private lives? Will our social media apps win over meaningful face-to-face interactions? Will my students’ gaming devices win over books and reading? Will we be able to overcome technology and its socio-emotional ramifications? I reflect on the hopeless, helpless look on Neeta’s face as she watches as the surveillance police handcuffs her sister. 

It is time for me to get off the laptop.

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