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The Laws of CoolKnowledge Work and the Culture of Information$
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Alan Liu

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780226486987

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226487007.001.0001

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Preface “We Work Here, but We're Cool”

Preface “We Work Here, but We're Cool”

(p.76) Preface “We Work Here, but We're Cool”
The Laws of Cool

Alan Liu

University of Chicago Press

Amid the coldest and richest of our contemporary seas—awash in the bright, quick data streams and great knowledge surges—lies the continent of cool. The sea is the sea of information in which we variously surf, navigate, explore, and drown (the standard metaphors). The friendship of the World Wide Web, and everything it represents in the long history of work leading up to current knowledge work, is strangely cold. Precisely in this cold space of non-identity, cool appears as the cultural face of knowledge work. Cool arises inside the regime of knowledge work as what might be called an intraculture rather than a subculture or counterculture. This chapter reviews the history of contemporary knowledge work—specifically, the history of how knowledge workers grew so cold they had to be cool. Cold work originated in alienation as Karl Marx understood it. But what is most relevant in our context is the specifically twentieth-century history of alienation, which this chapter unfolds in three ages of ice named after the leading work paradigms of their times: automating, informating, and networking.

Keywords:   cool, knowledge work, World Wide Web, alienation, knowledge workers, intraculture, automating, informating, networking

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