[iDC] Critique (?) of immaterial labour

Myron Turner mturner at cc.umanitoba.ca
Sun Aug 19 18:32:33 UTC 2007

Reading Francis' comments about Open Source, I couldn't help smiling, 
because it brought immediately to mind a view of Eric Raymond's 
"Cathedral" that always irritated me:

   The Linux world behaves in many respects like a free market or an 
ecology, a collection
   of selfish agents attempting to maximize utility which in the process
   produces a self-correcting spontaneous order more elaborate and
   efficient than any amount of central planning could have achieved.

(For "central planning" read Microsoft/USSR, the strange bed-fellows of 
Raymond's imagination.)

It irritated me because I had my own rather less psychologically gritty 
view of OSS, where individuals did what they did for the sake of others 
in the community and for the pleasures of the activity itself.   Not 
that Francis  espouses Raymond's view, but he does sees practitioners of 
Open Software and participants in Web 2.0 as either wittingly or not 
complicit the corporate uses of the labor that goes into these activities. 
I am interested in these things from the point of view of the artist. In 
the early days of Rhizome, and especially after the initial appearance 
of products like Dreamweaver and Flash, I argued that net art faced the 
danger of being overtaken by a commercial sameness, with a corporate 
identity, and that artists should use prior and more basic techniques to 
produce their work.  But even then I realized how hopeless my case was.  
What exactly was "prior"? If we didn't use Flash, should we still use 
JavaScript, which was inextricably tied up with Netscape and Microsoft.? 
Or should we go so far as to make our own browsers?  And some of us did, 
guerrilla-browsers, but of course designed to run in Windows.  So where 
does one start, and where does bad faith begin?  If as artists we are 
being used, we are also the beneficiaries of this use.  We may hate that 
Google co-opts our personal data (and that it enforces Chinese 
censorship), but we may also love Google maps.  Should this give us bad 
moments?  I certainly think that it should.  But not all art must be 
protest art, and certainly it is pointless to abandon ourselves to 
paralysis, which would be to do nothing.  Art needs to be vigilant, 
aware of how it is embedded in the culture--perhaps not in every work of 
art, but in the career of the artist.  
Myron Turner

Francis Hunger wrote:
> I’ve been skeptical against the Open Source Software producers 
> community since years, skeptical against this white, middle-class, 
> male students and engineers. For me this user/producer group is a 
> club, which includes those who have enough time resources to create 
> social capital through peer recognition by working on technologically 
> oriented projects. As early technology adopters, the OSS producers 
> community also actively shapes technology (I have to repeat: they are 
> white, middle-class, male). The OSS producers community tested, 
> improved and incorporated all the elements which can be found in 
> Lazzaratos description of immaterial work above: Flat hierarchies, 
> computerized networks, creating products in their leisure time. So the 
> OSS producer is paradigmatic for the current overage of productivity 
> in the countries of fully developed capitalism, which again gets 
> induced into the circuit of production and exploitation.
> I think that similar things can be said about Web 2.0 producers/users 
> with the difference, that their subjectivity is not so much 
> concentrated in the technological field but in the social and cultural 
> field. Also I would assume, that Web 2.0 user/producers are less aware 
> of their cultural capital and how it is being exploited, compared to 
> OSS user/producers. (I can’t prove it, so it stays an assumption.)
> So I’d partially agree with Alan Clinton when he wrote: „On the one 
> hand you could view this as one of the most insidious instantiations 
> of false consciousness in some time. On the other hand, one might view 
> it in more Debordian terms, as the expression of an unarticulated and 
> unrealized desire that is exploited in a capitalist economy by 
> corporations, but which also reminds us of an inherent desire to share 
> and be sociable without asking preliminary and often stifling 
> questions about the end results of that imaginative interaction--in 
> other words a desire that is both social and experimental in nature.“
> I also think, that Google is one of the companies, who completely 
> understood how important is the concept of immaterial work and their 
> human capital. We all know, the stories of 20% of time to develop 
> „crazy projects“ within Google. Additionally I think Google has 
> completely understood how to include their users/producers to create 
> revenue and they do it much better than their competitors Yahoo and 
> Microsoft (The 1980s success of Microsoft was based in c l o s i n g 
> the sources, and I think they trouble to overcome what has become 
> their company culture). This gets visible at a first glance if you 
> realize, how much bottom-up created information gets included by 
> producers/users in e.g. Google Earth everyday. This bottom-up 
> information creates a surplus compared to the top-down information 
> (like street names etc) which governmental institutions or which 
> companies can create and sell. What makes even more sense is that 
> Google exploits their users’ data traces to optimize Google search 
> results and advertisements. They do that through combining several 
> sources of data: geo-data in Google Earth with user profile data and 
> user generated information from Adsense, Google Mail, You-Tube, Orkut, 
> Blogger.com, Picasa and other Google owned brands.


Myron Turner

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