WOMEN, COMPUTERS AND DEMOCRACY by the Women and Office Computerization Network (Reseau Femmes- Information-Bureaux) Unable to participate in person in the international ICATA conference, we hope this written contribution can serve as a useful input to the discusions and an expression of our support to the budding social conscience among young hackers, a milieu which has seemed so foreign and strange to us women. We are part of a network that is not computerized. It is a human network concerned with the question of the impact of office computerization on women's work. Our collective means of communication is a monthly 4-page mini-bullitin, which we produce ourselves, whenever possible on a micro-computer, and send out via the national and international mail service. Other contacts are maintained by telephone, by mail and by personal get togethers. We don't have the means at our disposal to use the computerized networks of banks, financial and insurance agencies, transnational enterprises of whatever national origin, or governments, although some of us, who work in universities or other research centers, do have professional access to data banks. It should be stated that women's groups caught on fast to the use value of the micro-computer for their own activities. The same is true for computer-assisted publication - providing the necessary money was available. An example is the bulletin WOMEN IN ACTION, published by the international ISIS network, which has recently switched to CAP which they have learnt to do themselves. The last issue contains letters from women's groups from all over the world who express the desire to learn this new computer for their own use. On the other hand, it would seem the womens's groups hardly ever resort to computerized networks, whatever be the reason. In France there is a public vidotex network connected to the telephone. The terminals, known as Minitel because of their small size, are furnished free by the telephone autorities. Whowever one can so have access to various services proposed, payment for which depends on utilization time and not on distance. One such service, Alternatik, has been set up cooperatively be various groups in the "alternative" movement. In the beginning, we participated in efforts to include a heading "women" on the menu. Information of interest to women can thus be inscribed on the Minitel's screen by anyone, anywhere, having access to a Minitel. However, despite the potential interactivity of this service, women do not participate at all. We should point out here that the cost of Minitel use is indeed rather high. Perhaps the lack of women's interest in this technology can also be traced to the fact the Minitel has been too much identified with the well-known "messageries roses". A word of explanation is in order here. By dialing 36.15 on a telephone, followed by the name of a "pink" message service, the user can participate in an interactive, pornographic conversation on the Minitel screen. These message services are supplied by private enterprises and a part of these calls, which reverts back to the telephone authorities, consitutes a major part of the government's income from Minitel. It is therefore understandable that some mothers of adolescents don't want to have a Minitel at home, whereas others object to the costly children's games available on the Minitel screen. As a matter of fact, the national Teletel network functions on the basis of a tremendous deficit. This has just been pointed out by the Cour des comptes, the body which prepares critical reports each year on government expenditures. (see Le Monde of June 30, 1989). This huge waste is due to the voluntarist, politico- technocratic conceptions underlying the Minitel. Nevertheless, we must recoginize and stress how useful the Minitel was to the nurses' movement during their great strike in October- November of last year. Alternatik put its services at the disposal of the nurses' coordinating structure. Each section could then remain in constant contact with the others thanks to the message and interactivity capability of this tool. This is one exmaple of an alternative use of computer technology, and it is precisely this theme of the ICATA conference that has attracted us. Our modest network rooted in France. We are far behind the English-speaking countries where women have been exploring problems of women's work and computerization for a long time already. We would like to point to the three international conferences on WOMEN, WORK AND COMPUTERS held in 1984, 1986 and 1988 under auspices of IFIP. The proceedings, published by North Holland-Elsevier, Amsterdam, contain a rich variety of factual material and depth of reflection. Numerous points of view are represented those that encourage women to seize the opportunity and become computer analysts, and others who denounce the "masculine culture" of that environment; those who point to the contradiction between the great hopes arouded by the computer and the real working conditions of women, and others who describe the conflict between users' needs - defended by the women workers - and the "objective" requirment of network profitability - defended by the administration. Of special concern is the fact that the end users are not consulted or asked to participate in the design and realization of computer networks installed in companies. Women would use such an approach almost instictively if they were permitted access to these positions of responsibility. Consulting agencies and courses on "modern management" do indeed favour such democratization for the introduction of new information technologies, but what takes place in real life is quite different. This is confirmed by the report "The company doctor faced with new technologies" which has just been published in the proceedings of the national conference on health at work held in Toulouse last year. It states: "The automatisation of various functions, which has been observed for a long time already in industry, is being developed today in the tertiary sector with unprecedented speed and scoope, almost always without prior consultation of the public or those directly concerned." Here is what the report says concerning computerized work: "It is the posture imposed by a computerized job that is responsible for pains, stiffness, fatigue, and cramps of the neck, the back, the arm and the right hand. The following factors play a determining role in the appearance of these symptoms: age, the wearing of badly adjusted corrective glasses, the quality of the screen image, the physical characteristics of the work station, the nature of the task, its organisation, and especially the duration of uninterrupted work." "Lastly, one can mention what we designate as computerinduced stress in view of the imposing number of operators subject to irritability, anxiety, depression and various psychosomatic troubles. "Change in work content and experience, performance control by the computer, the monotony of data entry work, the waiting periods in interactive work, the lack of promotion, the decrease in interpersonal relations can be considered as conducive factors. "The screen itself is definitely not pathogenic. Inadquate conditions of its use alone contribute to the manifestation of health problems". And who are the people at the bottom of the ladder who are most often subjected to "inadequate" working conditions? The report avoids any identification by sex, but we, who have read studies made in various countries, we know that they are almost exclusively women. What the company doctors say is therefore nothing new for us. But how many of those present at the ICATA conference were aware of these facts? If practically no women are to be found in the hacker environment, this does not mean that women are not interested in the computer tool they work with. On the contrary, research after research has shown that they want to know more about is, that they would like to use more of its functions. Their training, however, - if they do get some - is almost always limited to the bare essentials necessary for their job. For reasons we cannot go into here, these jobs are at the bottom of the ladder for the great majority of women. From that vantage ground, hopes quite naturally-arise for alternative usage of computers! Let's have a look at the kind of computerization women have access to, today, in offices. Word processing is no longer the prerogative of a specialized, "dedicated" machine - to use today's jargon - although that machine, and its dedicated women, are still a long way off from the ashcans of history. Word processing has become software for the micro-computer, it has rid itself of its sexist odor, and today men, too, are discovering all its wonders. A recent issue of the magazine TRAVAIL et EMPLOI features and article entitled "who uses word processing?" It's based on a quite serious research report. It states that 21% of all executives ("cadres") use wordprocessing! They represent one quarter of all the 1.600.000 people in France who do wordprocessing! However, beware! For 9 out of 10 of these executives "use word processing in their professional activities together with other kinds of information processing", whereas one third of typists and secretaries "use only word processing" in their work. And the article adds: "Almost all of the 300.000 persons who use word processing only have at their disposal only the simple machine." Since the article is silent on the subject, we shall not disclose to you the sex of these users whose labor force is allowed to produce one product only. Let us note, in passing, the use of the words "simple machine". The word processing machine is not at all simple, for it is a true micro-computer, although specialiced, and a number of months on- the-job training are necessary, after a few days of initiation, in order to really master it. All the women who use them will tell you so. But this objective requirement of skill is not recognized. It remains as invisible as their domestic labour which is also characterized, by others, as "simple". As for 'alienation" with regard to the product of one's work, the text to be processed, we are told, has been conceived by 3/4 of the excutives themselves and only by 1/3 of the employees. There is also a notable difference in the number of hours spent in front of the screen on word processing. Are you surprized to learn that "for every 100 hours of use, 60 can be attributed to employees and only 13 to executives, although they constitute, respectively, 42% and 24% of the users." Fifty percent of word processing users are women, states the article in tis only statistical breakdown by sex. This is due "solely to their predominant presence in employee functions related to such wordk", because "they are indeed relatively less numerous than men among executive users." Yesterday, when "information technology" consisted only of the hyge centralized computer, the sexual division of labor was more clear-cut and more easily recognizable. By and large, those who directly serviced the monster were men. The punchcard operators were all women. Despite the technical changes that have taken place since then, this structure of a sexual division of labour continues even today, like a religious community that has tranquilly gone through the upheavals of centuries of time. Indeed, whenever it is a question of mass data input on a terminal, such data being destined for treatment by the central computer, we find that it is women who do this work - in major administrations and private enterprise. They do this work and suffer the health consequences we mentioned above. What needs to be done to improve their working conditions is well known, but the money does not seem to be availbale... Computerization's immense productivity gains are not only used to quickly pay off investment costs but also to substantially reduce the work force. We have just witnessed this in France, for example, in the Finance Ministry, where the elimination of a great number of jobs "was justified by the progressive computerization of the tax administration sector". (Le Monde, 25-26 June 1989). Should we as women rejoice because executives - mostly men - are now also doing word processing? It all depends. In France, certain "progressive" administrations permitted free experimentation by the personnel in the use of the new micro-computers. What resulted was a give-and-take. When executives and technicians began to carry out temselves the word processing work formerly done by secretaries, the women insisted on doing some of their work on the micro-computers. Unfortunately, work is not yet considered as a continuing autonomous process of social experimentation. It was not long before new, rigid job definitions began to be elaborated. But the possibility of alternative usage of office computerzation had been glimpsed. By breaking down hierarchies, the new technology could further democracy at work... Is this too rosy a perspective? It would seem so, on reading Nicole Mandon's study on office computerization in the European Community. Based essentially on surveys made in France, she came to the conclusion that new possibilities of "careers" are being opened to women in connection with word processors - "monitrices, animatrices, coordinatrices de bureautique". As you see by the feminie ending of these words, these positions are intended to be female jobs, a new segregation in a newly created hierarchy where a handful of the "happy few" can rise above their colleaguesby "helping and encouring" them, by controlling their work and depriving them of initiative. As for the mass of women, she found that typing pools were not being disbanded but instead turned into high-pressure word processing production centers. Whatever non- typing computerized functions these women had been able to assume in recent years, here and here, the maintenance of lists, for example - were now being performed by the executives themselves on their own micro-computers. Many other tasks formerly considered secretarial duties have met the same fate. The number of secretaries has dropped drastically, and thos remaining now work for several executives at a time. Although appropriated by those in power for their own interests, computers and their metamorphoses are products of society as a whole, of its educational institutions, its accumulated wealth. The computer's miraculous productivity is experienced by working women as a great "time saver". What better alternative use for computers than to appropriate this use value for ourselves so that the "time saved" may serve the time-consuming process of democracy at work?