From call centres to management consultancy to government, decision-making is being dehumanised. We need to take a stand against the culture of targets
Automation in the modern world is usually thought of as done by robots or creepily intelligent software, but it is also the way, as this feistily interesting book argues, that bureaucracies composed of human beings increasingly operate. Officials are required to follow recipes (or algorithms) of sorting people into discrete categories and pursuing strictly defined courses of action with no allowance for ambiguity or complexity. They are condemned, if you will, to think inside the box.
This is what David Boyle, an economist and former policy wonk for the Liberal Democrats, refers to simply as “tickbox”: what more usually is called “tickbox culture” or, in US English, “checkbox culture”. For him it covers not only the targets and key performance indicators of official bureaucracy, but phenomena such as pervasive employee surveillance, the culture war over “identity politics”, the rise of management consultancy, the fact that you can never get a simple resolution to your problem from a call centre, and why the trains don’t work. Boyle himself instigated the celebrated “passenger strike” on Southern rail in 2017, convincing most of a trainload of passengers to refuse to show their tickets at Brighton. In an optimistic conclusion, he even claims that Ludwig Wittgenstein was also an enemy of “tickbox”, while exhorting his readers: “Refuse to categorise yourself on feedback or monitoring forms.” Continue reading...