Data Driven: How truckers are losing their freedom

Karen Levy’s book focuses on the workings of surveillance capitalism in one of America’s proudest industrial sectors
March 1, 2023
Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and New Workplace Surveillance
Karen Levy (RRP: £28)
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Part of me always wanted to be a trucker. Driving down long American highways, lugging the lumber and steel that make that country possible. The sun scorching my left forearm. The rain cracking against the windscreen. The solitariness and the freedom. 

Or maybe not. Karen Levy’s Data Driven is one of a number of post-Zuboff books—which is to say, post-Shoshana Zuboff’s totemic work The Age of Surveillance Capitalism—that focus on the mechanisms of surveillance capitalism in a particular sector; in this case, trucking. And “surveillance” really is the word. Since the introduction of a mandate in 2019 requiring Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) to be fitted in US trucks, drivers have been under more scrutiny than ever before.  

In fact, Levy argues persuasively that truckers are a kind of “canary in the coalmine” for the future of work. If even this scattered, sovereign industry can monitor its workers’ routes, efficiency levels and bodily functions, what hope do the rest of us have? 

Levy is an academic, and this shows in some ways, but not in others. Data Driven presents a library-bound, rather than roadside, view of what’s happening (although, to be fair, she does quote some truckers whom she has surveyed), while a full third of its 231 pages are given to appendices, notes, a bibliography and a remarkably thorough index. But it’s -also breezily written; a quick and informative read.

It culminates with a series of chapters that offer partial hope: examples of how truckers have managed to resist ELDs, at least until AI-driven automation kicks in, as well as a reminder that “technology isn’t deterministic”—we can choose how it operates and the sort of society it operates within. Perhaps it’s not too late for me to become a trucker, after all.