[iDC] "Exploitation only partly explains today's anxiety with online services."

Adam D Trowbridge atrowbridge at saic.edu
Mon Nov 18 01:42:52 UTC 2013

Three points on a map of history of constant employment analysis,
listed chronologically

1. Postscript on the Societies of Control (1992), Gilles Deleuze

"In the corporate system: new ways of handling money, profits, and
humans that no longer pass through the old factory form. These are
very small examples, but ones that will allow for better understanding
of what is meant by the crisis of the institutions, which is to say,
the progressive and dispersed installation of a new system of
domination. One of the most important questions will concern the
ineptitude of the unions: tied to the whole of their history of
struggle against the disciplines or within the spaces of enclosure,
will they be able to adapt themselves or will they give way to new
forms of resistance against the societies of control? Can we already
grasp the rough outlines of the coming forms, capable of threatening
the joys of marketing? Many young people strangely boast of being
"motivated"; they re-request apprenticeships and permanent training.
It's up to them to discover what they're being made to serve, just as
their elders discovered, not without difficulty, the telos of the
disciplines. The coils of a serpent are even more complex that the
burrows of a molehill."

2. The Brand You 50 : Or : Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an
'Employee' into a Brand That Shouts Distinction, Commitment, and
Passion! (1999), Tom Peters

Note: This book described the sensation as Ian Bogost's essay
describes, in the most positive, pro-corporate terms possible, 14
years ago. See also: "The Brand Called You" (1997)

"In The Brand You50, Peters sees a new kind of corporate citizen who
believes that surviving means not blending in but standing out. He
believes that "90+ percent of White Collar Jobs will be totally
reinvented/reconceived in the next decade" and that job security means
developing marketable skills, making yourself distinct and memorable,
and developing your network ability. Hislist-filled prescriptions
cover everything; for example, "You are Your Rolodex I: BRAND YOU IS A
TEAM" (no. 22), "Consider your 'product line'" (no. 25), "Work on your
Optimism" (no. 35), "Sell. SELL. SELL!!!" (no. 47). While the book is
overwhelming at times--its hyperactive typography pretty much shouts
at you--any baby boomer thinking about his or her career will find
much to consider." --Harry C. Edwards

3. The Coming Insurrection (2007),  The Invisible Committee

"The order of work was the order of a world. The evidence of its ruin
is paralyzing to those who dread what will come after. Today work is
tied less to the economic necessity of producing goods than to the
political necessity of producing producers and consumers, and of
preserving by any means necessary the order of work. Producing oneself
is becoming the dominant occupation of a society where production no
longer has an object: like a carpenter who’s been evicted from his
shop and in desperation sets about hammering and sawing himself. All
these young people smiling for their job interviews, who have their
teeth whitened to give them an edge, who go to nightclubs to boost the
company spirit, who learn English to advance their careers, who get
divorced or married to move up the ladder, who take courses in
leadership or practice “self-improvement” in order to better “manage
conflicts” – “the most intimate ‘self-improvement’”, says one guru,
“will lead to increased emotional stability, to smoother and more open
relationships, to sharper intellectual focus, and therefore to a
better economic performance.” This swarming little crowd that waits
impatiently to be hired while doing whatever it can to seem natural is
the result of an attempt to rescue the order of work through an ethos
of mobility.  To be mobilized is to relate to work not as an activity
but as a possibility.  If the unemployed person removes his piercings,
goes to the barber and keeps himself busy with “projects,” if he
really works on his “employability,” as they say, it’s because this is
how he demonstrates his mobility. Mobility is this slight detachment
from the self, this minimal disconnection from what constitutes us,
this condition of strangeness whereby the self can now be taken up as
an object of work, and it now becomes possible to sell oneself rather
than one’s labor power, to be remunerated not for what one does but
for what one is, for our exquisite mastery of social codes, for our
relational talents, for our smile and our way of presenting ourselves.
This is the new standard of socialization. Mobility brings about a
fusion of the two contradictory poles of work: here we participate in
our own exploitation, and all participation is exploited. Ideally, you
are yourself a little business, your own boss, your own product.
Whether one is working or not, it’s a question of generating contacts,
abilities, networking, in short: “human capital.” The planetary
injunction to mobilize at the slightest pretext – cancer, “terrorism,”
an earthquake, the homeless – sums up the reigning powers’
determination to maintain the reign of work beyond its physical

The present production apparatus is therefore, on the one hand, a
gigantic machine for psychic and physical mobilization, for sucking
the energy of humans that have become superfluous, and, on the other
hand, it is a sorting machine that allocates survival to conformed
subjectivities and rejects all “problem individuals,” all those who
embody another use of life and, in this way, resist it. On the one
hand, ghosts are brought to life, and on the other, the living are
left to die. This is the properly political function of the
contemporary production apparatus."

On Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 12:33 PM, Trebor Scholz <scholzt at newschool.edu> wrote:
> Here in New York, it's a beautifully clear and frosty morning and I am
> excited to see the list coming back to life a bit. It's so great to hear
> your voices again. And there are still some 2300 of us on this list.
> Hey, a year from now, we will kick off a conference at The New School
> that will build on some of the questions that we raised in 2009
> (http://digitallabor.org), a discussion that continued in many venues
> since then. You might have seen that we dropped "Digital Labor: The
> Internet as Playground and Factory" book earlier this year.
> (Get it now: http://tinyurl.com/lkr2m9v). I'm quite keen on reactivating a
> moderated exchange between artists, labor historians, designers, legal
> scholars, and media theorists about these topics. But for more
> information about the 2014 event, you'll have to wait until next week.
> For now, I am posting a short article by video game designer, critic and
> researcher Ian Bogost. Yes, the author graciously granted me
> permission to post his text here. What about his idea of hyperemployment?
> Are we all hyper-hustlers now? For me, at least when
> narrowly thinking about the crowdsourcing industry, the term is
> contradictory because of the very fact that workers in that industry
> are defined as independent contractors and platform owners stubbornly
> refuse to recognize them as employees (e.g.,
> http://tinyurl.com/bhxohqk). But then, he is really talking more
> broadly about exploitation, and there is so much more going on in that
> article.
> A more inclusive definition of employment
> (http://tinyurl.com/pewx54k), a closer look at the meaning of
> exploitation online, or the Swiss Unconditional Income Initiative
> could all be entry points that could help us to reboot the discussion about
> various forms of invisible labor on the iDC.
> best,
> Trebor
> =
> Trebor Scholz
> ...
> Hyperemployment, or the Exhausting Work of the Technology User
> Feeling overwhelmed online? Maybe it’s because you’re working dozens of jobs
> In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes famously argued that by the
> time a century had passed, developed societies would be able to
> replace work with leisure thanks to widespread wealth and surplus. “We
> shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich
> to-day,” he wrote, “only too glad to have small duties and tasks and
> routines.” Eighty years hence, it’s hard to find a moment in the day
> not filled with a duty or task or routine. If anything, it would seem
> that work has overtaken leisure almost entirely. We work increasingly
> hard for increasingly little, only to come home to catch up on the
> work we can’t manage to work on at work.
> Take email. A friend recently posed a question on Facebook: “Remember
> when email was fun?” It’s hard to think back that far. On Prodigy,
> maybe, or with UNIX mail or elm or pine via telnet. Email was silly
> then, a trifle. A leisure activity out of Keynes’s macroeconomics
> tomorrowland. It was full of excess, a thing done because it could be
> rather than because it had to be. The worst part of email was
> forwarded jokes, and even those seem charming in retrospect. Even junk
> mail is endearing when it’s novel.
> Now, email is a pot constantly boiling over. Like King Sisyphus
> pushing his boulder, we read, respond, delete, delete, delete, only to
> find that even more messages have arrived whilst we were pruning. A
> whole time management industry has erupted around email, urging us to
> check only once or twice a day, to avoid checking email first thing in
> the morning, and so forth. Even if such techniques work, the idea that
> managing the communication for a job now requires its own self-help
> literature reeks of a foul new anguish.
> If you’re like many people, you’ve started using your smartphone as an
> alarm clock. Now it’s the first thing you see and hear in the morning.
> And touch, before your spouse or your crusty eyes. Then the ritual
> begins. Overnight, twenty or forty new emails: spam, solicitations,
> invitations or requests from those whose days pass during your nights,
> mailing list reminders, bill pay notices. A quick triage, only to be
> undone while you shower and breakfast.
> Email and online services have provided a way for employees to
> outsource work to one another. Whether you’re planning a meeting with
> an online poll, requesting an expense report submission to an ERP
> system, asking that a colleague contribute to a shared Google Doc, or
> just forwarding on a notice that “might be of interest,” jobs that
> previously would have been handled by specialized roles have now been
> distributed to everyone in an organization.
> No matter what job you have, you probably have countless other jobs as
> well. Marketing and public communications were once centralized, now
> every division needs a social media presence, and maybe even a website
> to develop and manage. Thanks to Oracle and SAP, everyone is a
> part-time accountant and procurement specialist. Thanks to Oracle and
> Google Analytics, everyone is a part-time analyst.
> And email has become the circulatory system along which internal
> outsourcing flows. Sending an email is easy and cheap, and emails
> create obligation on the part of a recipient without any prior
> agreement. In some cases, that obligation is bureaucratic, meant to
> drive productivity and reduce costs. “Self-service” software
> automation systems like these are nothing new—SAP’s enterprise
> resource planning (ERP) software has been around since the 1970s. But
> since the 2000s, such systems can notify and enforce compliance via
> email requests and  nags. In other cases, email acts as a giant human
> shield, a kind of white collar Strategic Defense Initiative. The
> worker who emails enjoys both assignment and excuse all at once.
> “Didn’t you get my email?”
> The despair of email has long left the workplace. Not just by
> infecting our evenings and weekends via Outlook web access and
> BlackBerry and iPhone, although it has certainly done that. Now we
> also run the email gauntlet with everyone. The ballet school’s
> schedule updates (always received too late, but, “didn’t you get the
> email?”); the Scout troop announcements; the daily deals website
> notices; the PR distribution list you somehow got on after attending
> that conference; the insurance notification, informing you that your
> new coverage cards are available for self-service printing (you went
> paperless, yes?); and the email password reset notice that finally
> trickles in 12 hours later, since you forgot your insurance website
> password since a year ago. And so on.
> It’s easy to see email as unwelcome obligations, but too rarely do we
> take that obligation to its logical if obvious conclusion: those
> obligations are increasingly akin to another job—or better, many other
> jobs. For those of us lucky enough to be employed, we’re really
> hyperemployed—committed to our usual jobs and many other jobs as well.
> It goes without saying that we’re not being paid for all these jobs,
> but pay is almost beside the point, because the real cost of
> hyperemployment is time. We are doing all those things others aren’t
> doing instead of all the things we are competent at doing. And if we
> fail to do them, whether through active resistance or simple
> overwhelm, we alone suffer for it:  the schedules don’t get made, the
> paperwork doesn’t get mailed, the proposals don’t get printed, and on
> and on.
> But the deluge doesn’t stop with email, and hyperemployment extends
> even to the unemployed, thanks to our tacit agreement to work for so
> many Silicon Valley technology companies.
> Increasingly, online life in general feels like this. The endless,
> constant flow of email, notifications, direct messages, favorites,
> invitations. After that daybreak email triage, so many other icons on
> your phone boast badges silently enumerating their demands. Facebook
> notifications. Twitter @-messages, direct messages. Tumblr followers,
> Instagram favorites, Vine comments. Elsewhere too: comments on your
> blog, on your YouTube channel. The Facebook page you manage for your
> neighborhood association or your animal rescue charity. New messages
> in the forums you frequent. Your Kickstarter campaign updates. Your
> Etsy shop. Your Ebay watch list. And then, of course, more email.
> Always more email.
> Often, we cast these new obligations either as compulsions (the
> addictive, possibly dangerous draw of online life) or as necessities
> (the importance of digital contact and an “online brand” in the
> information economy). But what if we’re mistaken, and both tendencies
> are really just symptoms of hyperemployment?
> When critics engage with the demands of online services via labor,
> they often cite exploitation as a simple explanation. It’s a sentiment
> that even has its own aphorism: “If you’re not paying for the product,
> you are the product.” The idea is that all the information you provide
> to Google and Facebook, all the content you create for Tumblr and
> Instagram enable the primary businesses of such companies, which
> amounts to aggregating and reselling your data or access to it. In
> addition to the revenues extracted from ad sales, tech companies like
> YouTube and Instagram also managed to leverage the speculative value
> of your data-and-attention into billion-dollar buyouts. Tech companies
> are using you, and they’re giving precious little back in return.
> While often true, this phenomenon is not fundamentally new to online
> life. We get network television for free in exchange for the attention
> we devote to ads that interrupt our shows. We receive “discounts” on
> grocery store staples in exchange for allowing Kroger or Safeway to
> aggregate and sell our shopping data. Meanwhile, the companies we do
> pay directly as customers often treat us with disregard at best, abuse
> at worst (just think about your cable provider or your bank). Of
> course, we shouldn’t just accept online commercial exploitation just
> because exploitation in general has been around for ages. Rather, we
> should acknowledge that exploitation only partly explains today’s
> anxiety with online services.
> Hyperemployment offers a subtly different way to characterize all the
> tiny effort we contribute to Facebook and Instagram and the like. It’s
> not just that we’ve been duped into contributing free value to
> technology companies (although that’s also true), but that we’ve
> tacitly agreed to work unpaid jobs for all these companies. And even
> calling them “unpaid” is slightly unfair, since we do get something
> back from these services, even if they often take more than they give.
> Rather than just being exploited or duped, we’ve been hyperemployed.
> We do tiny bits of work for Google, for Tumblr, for Twitter, all day
> and every day.
> Today, everyone’s a hustler. But now we’re not even just hustling for
> ourselves or our bosses, but for so many other, unseen bosses. For
> accounts payable and for marketing; for the Girl Scouts and the Youth
> Choir; for Facebook and for Google; for our friends via their
> Kickstarters and their Etsy shops; for Twitter, which just converted
> years of tiny, aggregated work acts into $78 of fungible value per
> user.
> Even if there is more than a modicum of exploitation at work in the
> hyperemployment economy, the despair and overwhelm of online life
> doesn’t derive from that exploitation—not directly anyway. Rather,
> it’s a type of exhaustion cut of the same sort that afflicts the
> underemployed as well, like the single mother working two part-time
> service jobs with no benefits, or the PhD working three contingent
> teaching gigs at three different regional colleges to scrape together
> a still insufficient income. The economic impact of hyperemployment is
> obviously different from that of underemployment, but some of the same
> emotional toll imbues both: a sense of inundation, of being trounced
> by demands whose completion yields only their continuance, and a
> feeling of resignation that any other scenario is likely or even
> possible. The only difference between the despair of hyperemployment
> and that of un- or under-employment is that the latter at least
> acknowledges itself as an substandard condition, while the former
> celebrates the hyperemployed’s purported freedom to “share” and
> “connect,” to do business more easily and effectively by doing jobs
> once left for others competence and compensation, from the convenience
> of your car or toilet.
> Staring down the barrel of Keynes’s 2030 target for the arrival of
> universal leisure, economists have often considered why Keynes seems
> to have been so wrong. The inflation of relative needs is one
> explanation—the arms race for better and more stuff and status. The
> ever-increasing wealth gap, on the rise since the anti-Keynes,
> supply-side  1980s is another. But what if Keynes was right, too, in a
> way. Even if productivity has increased mostly to the benefit of the
> wealthy, hasn’t everyone gained enormous leisure, but by replacing
> recreation with work rather than work with recreation? This new work
> doesn’t even require employment; the destitute and unemployed
> hyperemployed are just as common as the affluent and retired
> hyperemployed. Perversely, it is only then, at the labor equivalent of
> the techno-anarchist’s  singularity, that the malaise of
> hyperemployment can cease. Then all time will become work time, and we
> will not have any memory of leisure to distract us.
> This article available online at:
> http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/11/hyperemployment-or-the-exhausting-work-of-the-technology-user/281149/
> Copyright © 2013 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.
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Adam Trowbridge, Assistant Professor and Wired Coordinator
Department of Contemporary Practices
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
37 S. Wabash, Chicago, IL 60603
atrowbridge at saic.edu
312.945.8769 Office

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