[iDC] Critique (?) of immaterial labour

Myron Turner mturner at cc.umanitoba.ca
Wed Aug 29 13:35:35 UTC 2007

Hi Francis,

I agree.  I don't think we should get tied up by the technologies that 
we use--which is what I mean when I say we can't let ourselves be 
paralyzed by these questions.  And as I say, not every work of an artist 
has to have plitical import.  But I think that over a career, an artist 
has to show an awareness of the cultural context in which his/her work 
has been created.  This has always been the case.  Cultural contexts 
shift, but they are the sea in which an artist lives and works, art's 
nourishment and essential bouyancy.  Not to be aware of them is to be a 
naif or hobbiest or folk-artist--which is not to say that these can't 
have a place in our lives and give us pleasure--they can and do.

(I do know about runme.org, by the way, and have occasionally 
contributed to it.)



Francis Hunger wrote:
> Hi Miron,
> as nobody else picked up the topic on the list, I'll continue off 
> list, thank you for replying and your interest.
>> 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, I would like to answer on a very general level to this, because 
> I think this is one of the basic problems which everybody faces who 
> involves him/herself politically - be it with art or with any other 
> means - this is always the discussion of what you can do as the least 
> worst, and frankly I don't think one can find an satisfying answer. So 
> I don't think that discussing the kind of technology you use will help 
> any further, because whatever you decide there will always be a trap 
> and you'll get trapped sooner or later.
> Still I think, there is a potential for artistic work dealing with 
> technology to address issues on a conceptual level. And I think, the 
> stronger the conceptual level and the aesthetical translation the less 
> important gets the technology which one uses. So in the best case a 
> certain techology is a means of what you want to say, not the other 
> way around. If you could express a certain idea on paper or used 
> cardboard or whatever material and it is strong, then it wount get 
> less strong by using Microsoft Word. Even in using Microsoft word, 
> there might be a chance for strong artistic works, especially if you 
> exploit Word in a way no one (including you) would have expected.
> Well I have to admit, that this is no solution and I even don't expect 
> any solution under the current circumstances, we live in. There have 
> been some interesting works dealing with software in general at 
> http://runme.org but I can't tell you specific examples now.
> Myron, I wish you a good day,
> best regards
> Francis
>> 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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