A critical approach to human helping in information systems: Heteromation in the Brazilian correspondent banking system



Linha de Pesquisa
Formação, Crescimento e Transformação de Sistemas de Negócio, Organizacionais e Sócio-Econômicos

Diane E. Bailey, Eduardo H. Diniz, Bonnie A. Nardi, Paul M. Leonardi, Dan Sholler



Information and Organization, v. 28, n. 3, pp. 111-128. Introduction – Information systems often fail after implementation. Sometimes they fail because users refuse to incorporate them into work. Other times they fail because they do not provide hoped-for benefits. Strategies to avoid failure include user training (so users might better operate the system), user input into design (so designers might better craft the system for use), and user alterations (so users might better fit the system to use) (e.g., Jasperson, Carter, & Zmud, 2005; Majchrzak, Rice, Malhotra, King, & Ba, 2000; Markus & Mao, 2004). These strategies often rest on the implicit premise that a gap between how designers envisioned system use and how users experienced the system begets failure (Heeks, 2003; Suchman, 2002). Narrowing the gap between designers’ conceptions and users’ reality thus becomes the goal in many efforts to achieve system success. Information systems can nonetheless succeed if human users provide labor to bridge the gaps. Ekbia and Nardi (2014, 2017) coined the term “heteromation” (in contrast to automation, which removes humans) to describe this labor relation in which organizations or individuals appropriate the economic value generated when users provide the labor necessary to make an information system work. Because users’ labor is typically thinly compensated, if at all, heteromated systems carry with them the risk of labor exploitation (Ekbia & Nardi, 2012, 2014, 2017). As such, these systems underscore van Dijck’s (2009) concerns about an increasingly participatory culture that lauds unpaid contributions to the corporate good. Following critical scholars of digitalized labor such as Fuchs and Sevignani (2013), Andrejevic (2015), Berg and De Stefano (2017) and many others, it is imperative that we consider how heteromation can serve useful purposes while ensuring worker rights. Berg and De Stefano (2017) pointed out that computermediated labor can be managed to regulate work and protect workers, if the right protections are in place. We are a long way from such protections. We hope this paper raises awareness of the fact that heteromation is value-producing labor and as such, it should be part of conversations about worker rights.

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