Friday, March 8, 2013

The Autonomy Paradox

Melissa Mazmanian, Wanda Orlikowski and JoAnne Yates have recently published a great paper on the use of smartphones by professionals.  Entitled 'The autonomy paradox: The implications of mobile email devices for knowledge professionals,' they find that contrary to the literature on autonomy at work, where loss of control is almost universally seen as a negative thing, work-extending technologies, like smartphones, paradoxically both provide flexibility and control over work (especially communication 'flow') and constricts one's ability to get away from work.

Mazmanian and colleagues find that, 'rather than feeling frustrated or trapped, they (knowledge professionals) report that using the mobile device offers them flexibility and capacity to perform their work, and it increases their sense of competence and being in control' (p. 2).  They go on to suggest,

'Our research offers insights into how the use of mobile technologies amplifies practices and capacities of communication, reinforcing professional norms on the one hand and shifting them on the other hand, to engender a new dynamic of continuous--and compulsive--connectivity' (p. 2).

'We identify how professionals rationalise their diminishing autonomy, framing this outcome not as an encroachment but as indispensable to helping them achieve flexibility and accountability in their work' (p. 2).

This is a very well-crafted and readable scholarly article, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the study of ubiquitous and work-extending technologies. It is based on a qualitative field study and as such has lots of great quotes about smartphone use by knowledge professionals.

No comments: