Know a short story where service-worker drones started being managed by constant messages in their earpieces?
May 29, 2007 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a short story I read online, where technological advances eliminate middle management and then junior employees, with a fast food restaurant used as an example...

So I read this story online maybe a couple of years back. A system is invented that essentially orders around junior employees via earpieces by providing very precise instructions. (Now, sweep the floor. Done? Now, wash your hands. Done? Now...) This essentially replaces middle management, especially when they upgrade the system so it can also track performance, share performance with the systems of other employers, and so on.

Eventually this leads to a massively chaotic society where really only company owners have any assets, and millions of unemployed are shifted to special camps to keep them under control. However, at this point in the story some contrivance (possibly involving uploading to a 'virtual world', but maybe not) leads to things ending up happily ever after. It may instead have been an illustration of a different society where the technology had been used for the common good and the benefits shared equally among everyone. In this better society, everyone spent all day having fun, being creative, and stuff like that.

Essentially though, I'm looking for the first bit. The technology itself was explained in the context of a fast food restaurant, I believe. Orders came to you via earpiece.

Ring any bells? Let me know! Thanks.
posted by so_necessary to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Robotic Nation, by Marshall Brain of HowStuffWorks fame
posted by niles at 3:45 PM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

....Robotic Nation is a lead up to the actual story, Manna
posted by niles at 3:50 PM on May 29, 2007

Manna is the one! Thanks so much, Miles - this one has been bugging me for ages.
posted by so_necessary at 3:53 PM on May 29, 2007

Interesting concept, but written poorly. I'm surprised that it was memorable to anyone.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:56 PM on May 29, 2007

That's classic science-fiction trouble right there - neat idea, bad characterization and execution, like an early Arthur C. Clarke story. Still, what was so memorable was the insidiousness of it as it progressed, step by step. The technology in the beginning wasn't unreasonable, and it had an interesting twist - rather than starting with "the workers," it goes for the middle management. He even stuck robotic vision out in 2023, which seems like an attainable goal.

It gets a little less likely around Chapter 5, though.
posted by adipocere at 4:07 PM on May 29, 2007

Yeah, it was an incredibly strong opening, but then it drifted off into some kind of communist manifesto or something and I stopped reading. First few chapters are very memorable indeed, though, I think.
posted by reklaw at 4:46 PM on May 29, 2007

I agree with reklaw regarding the power of the opening chapters. I think that the greatest strength there is the narrator's cool detachment (although this is repeatedly bent in subsequent chapters), since it allows the reader to form his own opinion.
posted by The Confessor at 7:09 PM on May 29, 2007

Just in case you were curious, I was led to remember this story because I'm starting to do some research around the ideas of delegation, submission, networkedness and suchlike in terms of drama/gaming/culture.

Essentially the interesting and creepy thing about the Manna idea (at the start) is the observation that it's actually quite relaxing... I bet if you could plug a personal copy into your RSS feeds, GTD lists and so on, it'd be all the rage with the Lifehacker crowd.
posted by so_necessary at 9:11 AM on May 30, 2007

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