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The Expropriation of Digital Labor and What to Do About It

                                       Trebor Scholz | New School University
10/22/09
www.situatedtechnologies.net
http://digitallabor.org
Labor/Play

Work/Life
            Consumption/Production




                              Playbor?
Who are the workers?
3 billion people in the economic dev. world
Social participation is the oil of the
         digital economy
“...they are participating without thinking
that they participate. That’s where the power comes.”
                    Tim O’Reilly in Remix p224
the work of creating meta data
gold farmers
working for search engines:
each click makes Google’s search better
                                          news.cnet.com/i/bto/20080226/facebookabout.jpg
media consumption
uploading photos, videos
                                          commenting

     attention
                               Labor
                                       gold farmers
   captcha                  beta testers
               artistic work
data work                              micro-blogging
             virtual objects
                                 blog posts
 power users
                   virtual volunteering
      referral                      emotional work
                     posting news stories
Little research leverages the ample data that are created by people‘s
interactions, such as e-mail, call logs, text messaging, document
repositories, web 2.0 tools, and so on. As a result, important questions
like does the optimal network structure for performance hold for a large
network‘ and what is the appropriate timing of communication to actors
of interest‘, and the like have been completely neglected. p2
                                      Value of Social Network -- A Large-Scale Analysis on Network Structure
                                     Impact to Financial Revenue of Information Technology Consultants1
$15,000 Swiss watch and $22-a-pack cigarettes.
     Official legal channels are often inadequate but Internet vigilantism led to the dismissal of Juigeng




Communist official Zhou Juigeng is
under investigation for an apparent
"lavish lifestyle" that exceeds his
government salary.
1994
                                                 Released for free. In the four years between the beta stage of
                                                 Navigator 1.0 and the release of Communicator 4.0, Netscape went
                                                 through 39 beta versions. From Navigator 1.0 to the release of
Free-ish services are not free by any standard   Communicator 4.0, 39 beta versions.




Free Comes at a Price
Pleasure of creation

Social status/micro-fame
   Friendships                        Data mining                    Unwanted content (ads, spam)

     a way to renew inspiration
   Memories




                                           Tradeoffs
   Inner-communal linkages
   Social Wage


   Share life experience
   Free Service?                                                               Job losses in media industry
                                           Jobs                      Centralization: “Berlusconi effect”
                                   Dates                                                     Participation imperative
   Inspiration
   Greater good                                                                               “Glass customer”

                                   Performing identity

   Social enjoyment
                                                  Opt-in Default
   Informal mentorship
                              commercial utilization of our
                              attention and emotions
    Referral
    Monetization of cognitive surplus (presence, labor, life)
                                               Capture of community
             addiction                      Breach of the social contract/context violation
                             Predatory
http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000291661




“If those within the sharing economy begin to think of themselves
as tools of a commercial economy, they will be less willing to play.”
                                  Lessig, p177, Remix
A billion people in advanced economies may have
between two billion and six billion spare hours
among them, every day.
                     Y. Benkler (Remix. p178 Lessig)
People have a lot of free time. You might as well give
    them some task like translating your web site.
                     Eric Schmidt, CEO Google
“I also watched my book reviewing
career begin to take shape. I take
immense pleasure informing other
readers about newcomers or
unknown authors who have written
superb novels.”
http://harrietklausner.wwwi.com/
More companies are sure to study the company
we keep - and even attempt to calculate how
much each friendship is worth.
    Value of Social Network --
    A Large-Scale Analysis on Network Structure Impact to Financial Revenue of Information Technology Consultants
We encourage people to do the work by taking
advantage of their desire to be entertained.
-- ESP GAME about section
(40% of all Internet traffic <...> is concentrated
on 10 websites)




                                                                       peer production taking
                                                                       place on commercial
                                                                       platforms




            non-profit platforms, ISPs,
            “the wealth of networks”
             (Seti@home, Wikipedia)



      Value from nonmarket peer production is expropriated on commercial platforms.
Tastes
Know-how                   Opinions                 Habits




       Modes of Life                       Memory

                                               Repetition
Mental and bodily habits         Customs             Life Itself is Put to Work
                         Norms
                                                         Behaviors
                  Expectations
                         Performing identity        Imitation Passions
        Predictability                                               Desires
participation imperative



                           Conclusion
Dominant, centralized, non-transparent
Promote Data Portability as Competitive Advantage

                    profile data, friend lists, location, activity stream
                    dataportability.org
Value/Expropriation Literacy
Free and Open Software as a Model for Cooperation
Unionization?

Distributed Labor Force, Unite

Political Consciousness.
http://zunguzungu.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/pict3.jpg
Artistic Resistance
http://www.chrisbarr.net/art/interruptions
Kevin Killian writes autobiographical fiction in Amazon.com’s book review section
1525 reviews (as of January 7th, 2006)
http://meta-markets.com/
Profit Sharing

     YouTube, Google Adsense, Amazon.com
Hack Social Media Platforms

Jail Break Facebook
http://nosoproject.com/


The NOSO experience offers a unique opportunity to create NO Connections by scheduling
NO Events with other NO Friends.
2008, London Marathon: photo shopped user submitted news reporting
2008, London Marathon: photo shopped user submitted news reporting
Law

How much power do you want to give to major sites
on the Internet?
(Pasquale)

Internet Governance
(standards -- protocols, network rules-- transparency)

Injustice of Inequality of Distribution of Wealth:
(Users demanding a stake)
Public Media

Non-profit infra

structures CrabGrass

          HelloWorld!
Greed-Free Businesses

Craigslist
Networked Peer Production
Trebor Scholz
scholzt@newschool.edu

@trebors
The Expropriation of Digital Labor 
and What to Do About It

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The Expropriation of Digital Labor 
and What to Do About It

Editor's Notes

  1. In the 1950s television started to establish commonalities between suburbanites in the United States. Communities that were previously created through national newspaper now bonded over sitcoms. Today, participation in social networking services is as easy as switching on the TV and many of the more than one billion Internet users are taking part in this experience. In economically advanced societies, a seizable workforce of billions of people spend much of their spare time online. From chess to scrabble, they moved many of their favorite pastimes to the Web. People blog, comment, procrastinate, refer, tease, remix, and upload. Essentially, they are paying attention and while doing so they are providing detailed information about themselves to companies that can now put a price on their friendships. Today, communication is a mode of production and it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between play, consumption and production, life and work, labor and non-labor.
  2. The way the speculative value of companies like Facebook is generated is still murky at best. It is sensible to link the current financial speculation back to a long history of speculation, from the 1632 Tulipmania to the dotcom insanity of the late 1990s that invigorated the Web and then temporarily crashed it into the sand. Now, the means of communication are in the hands of users, free of charge, but the profits go to a small number of platform providers. Everyone is free to play but only few strike it rich. However, there are only few examples of exploitation. Mostly, user-company relationships are mutually beneficial and on occasion Internet users act out of altruism.
  3. Patching Up Societal Ills, at least in the US-- these are some reasons. In the UK, web use now equals that of the US (overcoming &amp;#x201C;privateness&amp;#x201D;) The means of communication are now in the hands of the people.
  4. Inner-nets of production: factory, office. Outer-nets: Small acts of shopping require low-level acts of labor previously performed by paid employees. Fast food restaurants Air travelers are requested to print out their tickets on service kiosks Walmart
  5. Money is largely --not-- made off the content itself, thus the main struggle is not intellectual property 583mio/15bn, Commercialization of Social Life: Creation of Value. The predictive power of co-relation Work is extremely casual and unskilled work
  6. 2007 $169 billion The value that google uses is already created by others.
  7. 2007 $169 billion The value that google uses is already created by others.
  8. Virtual landlords host tenants for &amp;#x201C;free&amp;#x201D; but &amp;#x201C;free&amp;#x201D; comes at a price. Pasquinelli, Matteo &amp;#x201C;...in the end online &amp;#x201C;free labour&amp;#x201D; appears to be more dominant than the &amp;#x201C;wealth of networks.&amp;#x201D;http://www.rekombinant.org/docs/Ideology-of-Free-Culture.pdf Disproportionate control of the public sphere 11% of all time spent on single site is spent on Myspace The commons are commercial and art and activist work is taking place on that.
  9. What are the sites of this interaction labor? The Well became to be known as one of the first &quot;virtual communities.&quot; Since 1985, members worked together, played with their identities, learned from each, supported each other emotionally, and even helped each other to get jobs. The activities of the people on The Well enriched those who participated without filling the purse of just one of its members. Later, such perhaps idealistic communal norms and expectations were appropriated by companies such as Lucas Film, which launched the online role-playing game Habitat in 1987. Habitat was among the first projects to attempt to expropriate financial value from a group of users online. In the early 1990s AOL ran &amp;#x201C;cyber sweatshops&amp;#x201D; using unpaid volunteers as chat room moderators, leading to a class-action lawsuit against AOL under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In 1994, Netscape released their Navigator browser for free and put the good will of its users to work. A cadre of users became willing beta testers and allowed the company to undergo 39 beta versions between Navigator 1.0 and Communicator 4.0. Recently, the New York Times reported that unwaged volunteers work for Verizon in customer support. This is not at all uncommon. Thousands of people contribute their expertise to Apple&apos;s technology forums, where owners of Macintosh products can ask questions about the products, which are then answered by other costumers. We may also think of self-service restaurants, the check out machines at Walmart, or the sometimes infuriating self-check-in terminals in airports.
  10. Tradeoff: Conflict between platform owners and users Field of conflict, Complexities of pleasure of pleasure and exploitation The question should not be how to appease users by moving the scale of deception left or right but by offering tools for referral.
  11. This conference sets out to revisit the urgent question of what constitutes labor in relation to the digital economy and it seeks to imagine proposals for action. In 2001 the Italian media philosopher Tiziana Terranova emphasized that free labor has become structural to late capitalist cultural economy. The revenues of today&apos;s social aggregators reach millions and their speculative value exceeds billions of dollars. Capital manages to expropriate value from the commons; labor goes beyond the factory, all of society is put to work. Life itself is put to work. Each aspect of life fuels the digital economy: from sexual desire, to friendships-- everything becomes the fodder of speculative profit.
  12. Virtual landlords host tenants for &amp;#x201C;free&amp;#x201D; but &amp;#x201C;free&amp;#x201D; comes at a price. Pasquinelli, Matteo &amp;#x201C;...in the end online &amp;#x201C;free labour&amp;#x201D; appears to be more dominant than the &amp;#x201C;wealth of networks.&amp;#x201D;http://www.rekombinant.org/docs/Ideology-of-Free-Culture.pdf Disproportionate control of the public sphere 11% of all time spent on single site is spent on Myspace The commons are commercial and art and activist work is taking place on that.
  13. Virtual landlords host tenants for &amp;#x201C;free&amp;#x201D; but &amp;#x201C;free&amp;#x201D; comes at a price. Pasquinelli, Matteo &amp;#x201C;...in the end online &amp;#x201C;free labour&amp;#x201D; appears to be more dominant than the &amp;#x201C;wealth of networks.&amp;#x201D;http://www.rekombinant.org/docs/Ideology-of-Free-Culture.pdf Disproportionate control of the public sphere 11% of all time spent on single site is spent on Myspace The commons are commercial and art and activist work is taking place on that.
  14. Engage media giants on their own turf not: withdrawal into binary oppositions: them and us, activism against Deep in the forest there is a door to another world The Web is about creativity, collaboration, courage, and collective intelligence, but it also about control, centralization, consumption, and crisis.
  15. The Bureau of Workplace Interruptions is an &quot;intimate bureaucracy&quot; created to challenge our relationship to time and efficiency. BWI harnesses interruptive technology such as email, snail mail, and the telephone, as well as in-person visits to create invisible theatre that steals time from the realm of work and capital. We harness interruptive technology to expose the secret possibilities of the workday. As a time-stealing agency, the Bureau of Workplace Interruptions works directly with employees to invisibly insert intimate exchange into the flow of the workday. Our promise is to create interruptions that challenge the efficiency of our audience and the social and economic conditions of the modern workplace.
  16. NOSO is a real-world platform for temporary disengagement from social networking environments. The NOSO experience offers a unique opportunity to create NO Connections by scheduling NO Events with other NO Friends. These &amp;#x201C;NO&amp;#x201D; events, called NOSOs, take place in designated caf&amp;#xC3;&amp;#xA9;s, parks, libraries, bookstores, and other public spaces. Participants &amp;#xE2;&amp;#x20AC;&amp;#x201C; whose identities remain unknown to one another &amp;#xE2;&amp;#x20AC;&amp;#x201C; agree to arrive at an assigned time and remain alone, quiet and un-connected, while at the same time knowing that another &amp;#x201C;Friend&amp;#x201D; is present in the space. NOSOs are scheduled by users through the NOSO website. They last for a duration of 1 - 30 minutes, after which participants disperse and return to their regular activities.