Electronic stepping stones: a mosaic metaphor for the production and re-distribution of skill in electronic mode

Little, Stephen (2003). Electronic stepping stones: a mosaic metaphor for the production and re-distribution of skill in electronic mode. In: 19th EGOS Colloquium: Organization Analysis Informing Social and Global Development, 5-7 Jul 2003, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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The journey towards the global production and redistribution of skills in the electronic mode has been made along a number of key stepping stones. This paper examines the current form of global production and the role of information and communication technologies in enabling the close management of distributed resources: real time global monitoring of distributed activity transforms traditional principal/agent relationships. The real time remote control of distributed resources is a new institutional competence, however, the development of distributed resources as an institutional strategy is an older competence.

The paper traces the distributed resource mode of production to strategic innovations made in preparation for the Second World War: the U.K. wartime Shadow Factory programme and its U.S. equivalent. The U.K. programme deliberately distributed resources to protect against the wipe out of centralised resources by the enemy. A detailed account of the programme has been provided elsewhere. Post war this approach of distributed resources, ie shadow facilities, was used by major industrial concerns such as Ford to protect against disruption by trades unions and, indeed, sovereign states.

Since the development of shadow facility strategies by multi-nationals, without doubt new developments in information and communication technology for the detailed remote control of distributed facilities have emerged. The development of much of the technology used routinely within the global industrial system is the outcome of military priorities and consequent technological research, most particularly satellite technology and global positioning technology: the latter was used intensively for the first time in the first Gulf War.

However, the technologies which have enabled military and managerial surveillance of distributed resources also, paradoxically, enable the communities so scrutinised to develop their own distributed strategies and patterns of relationships with external parties. The shadowed are able to shadow their shadowers. Furthermore, ICTs allow anybody from any point to collect together global information resources which permit not only the shadowing of the present, but also enable the shadowing of the past: strategies which were historically concealed and are now rendered transparent and available for all to see. All parties, powerful and traditionally powerless, are within the position of social enclosure through the technologically enabled transparency of both past and present action.

Knowledge structures are now no longer fixed by historic patterns of past publication and concealment of histories but are a constantly re-assembling mosaic of newly available tiles of history and identity. Our discourse now is shaped by the tiles of distributed archiving and distributed discourse rather than set in the stone of priest, academy and authority.

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