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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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(p.105) Chapter 3 Informating
The Laws of Cool

Alan Liu

University of Chicago Press

We can best approach the issue of informating by visiting two work locales of the early 1980s depicted in Shoshana Zuboff's In the Age of the Smart Machine (1988). The book provides a sketch of one work site paradigmatic of a new mode of blue-collar work and a matching description of the new white-collar office of the time. Mainframe computing inaugurated not only sweeping changes in infrastructure and work routine, but also the possibility of a whole new mentality of work. Zuboff coined the term “informating” to mean that computers generate an inescapably thick wrapping of second-order information (information acting on information) around the primary interface of information acting on matter where automation occurs. Informating thus means building into automation the capacity metaphorically (and soon literally) to see the systemic whole of technological rationality—to glimpse not just individual files but the entirety of what C. Wright Mills named by synecdoche the “Enormous File” of white-collar workers. An important issue is the relation of counterculture to the entire baseline relating mainstream to subculture and work to leisure.

Keywords:   informating, Shoshana Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine, blue-collar work, white-collar workers, mainframe computing, automation, technological rationality, counterculture, work

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