19.4.08

First fear, then hatred




I've been thinking a great deal about why technology outsourcing is met with such broadly negative emotion by staff-level technologists in the USA (and probably in most "developed" countries).

This short passage from The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman might help explain why:

Few things are more enraging to people than to have their identity or their sense of home stripped away. They will die for it, kill for it, sing for it, write poetry for it, and novelize about it. Because without a sense of home and belonging, life becomes barren and rootless. And life as a tumbleweed is no life at all.

Strained prose aside, the salient bit is about how people are enraged when their identity or their sense of home is stripped away.

Globalization threatens people's identity and sense of home. Outsourcing has impacted the American workforce to the point where almost every job in almost every company is changed in some way. This is particularly true in high tech. People believe that jobs have "gone overseas." Whether this has actually what happened or not, the perception is "my job might disappear."

This gets right in the core of people's identity, and their sense of home. For some people, globalization, outsourcing and all that goes with it clearly threatens their identity. If they lose their job, they're no longer "an engineer" or "a developer" or "a Unix administrator" or whatever. And if they lose their job and fail to find another one, they might face loss of hearth and home.

I don't want to write a polemic argument about the validity of invalidity of this line of thinking, but it's important to realize that this fear is real and that in some cases the emotional reaction to outsourcing comes from the perception that it is a threat - not just to work norms and team dynamics - but to sense of self and home.

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