REVIEW: Steve Prentice — The Future of Workplace Fear (BOOK)
Steve Prentice’s new book is titled The Future of Workplace Fear: How Human Reflex Stands in the Way of Digital Transformation. Right off the bat, the work takes an empathetic approach to its featured topicality. There’s never a sense that Prentice sways the tonal barometer too far to the left, or to the right. The book focuses in a practical sense on the literal, psychological, and situational changes often occurring in an increasingly chameleonic workforce. This is thanks first and foremost, as evidenced by the title’s word choice, by technology.
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It’s the psychological components Prentice highlights that I found of particular interest as a reader. It’s not often books of this nature are able to mix so many interesting and psychodynamic elements into the text. But Prentice makes time for pretty much everything, and it results in a literary experience that is as informative as it is genuinely page-turning. “The digital transformation of life carries with it an increasing sense of urgency that has made us conscious of every second,” he writes in this vein. “That time display countdown bar at the top of a blog post offers that much-needed known commodity, seeking to eliminate from the reader’s mind their fear of how much time this article might take out of their life.
Similarly, it is well known that the most successful podcasts and YouTube videos are ones that can be played back at double speed or more. Even if you personally have never felt the need to listen to a podcast at double speed, many of those around you have. This same fear of the unknown, of not knowing how long this article will take to complete, is the same one that will influence people’s decision to either accept a meeting invite, or later claim that it ‘must have gone straight to my spam filter.’”
He summarizes: “We have been conditioned to doomscroll through life, moving from one message to the next in the hope of finding some sort of satisfaction, reinforcing a gambler’s compulsion of endlessly counting on the next bet as the big one. The goal, as always is to avoid perhaps the greatest fear of all: losing your job.”
By highlighting the distinct psychological effects modern technology can have on a person, there’s a humanistic touch to Prentice’s work. It adds an unexpected layer of poignancy. I could recognize core patterns in my own conduct, professionally and personally, in his writings. To a certain extent, I would argue we are all victims today — to varying degrees — of the phenomenon Prentice appears to be fixated on. He ruthlessly continues to provide examples of these kinds of subtle machinations and manipulations, and their effects upon the individual in a personal and collectivized set of contexts.
“As people embrace new skills, the need (or opportunity) to hand off some lesser valued skills to others becomes more urgent,” he writes. “In fact this is one of the most fundamental and practical principles of productivity: if there is ever a chance to hand off a task to another person in order to free yourself up to do something of greater value, then you should do this. It’s called delegation, but it too, is often held back by fear, and so, with this new wave of opportunity arriving, it is important to recognize the fear of delegation as another fear related to digital transformation.”