[iDC] Virtual Worlds, Education, & Labor

Alan Clinton reconstruction.submissions at gmail.com
Mon Mar 5 23:39:06 EST 2007

I find Trebor's concepts of "unpaid labor" and his seeming desire to convert
every act into "labor" somewhat problematic.  I am also concerned about the
philosophical ramifications of saying that people who think they are having
fun are not really having fun or experiencing pleasure.

I'm not sure that seeking out all the unpaid labor in the virtual world is
the most productive critique of capitalism.

Is the greatest trick of capitalism really convincing people that labor
doesn't exist?  I would say that its greatest trick would be convincing
people that the violence of human exploitation doesn't exist.  At the risk
of revising Marcuse, couldn't we say that consciousness of servitude is not
really the problem so much as providing strategies for political agency?
People who are laboring know that they are laboring.  People (and let's not
dismiss the global south so quickly) who are suffering the violence of
capitalism know they are suffering the violence of servitude.  They may lack
awareness of ways to name this violence or attack it, but they are not
unaware of their suffering.

It's hard for me to shed any real tears for socioeconomically stable people
giving up their virtual labor (or false consciousness fun) to companies that
profit from it.  However, it is criminal if sociable media agents/interfaces
sap these individuals, as embodied beings, of the time, energy,
and knowledge required for political agency (not primarily for themselves
but for the brutally exploited)--having their political agency diminished or
extinguished by their lack of awareness of their participation in the
violent capitalism of which they are, for the most part, beneficiaries.

Perhaps the surplus value that needs to be spoken of in this context is the
time, resources, and knowledge that is diverted from potential actions
against global capitalism and its violence.

Alan Clinton

On 3/3/07, Trebor Scholz <trebor at thing.net> wrote:
> After the OurFloatingPoint event at Emerson College, over some green
> string beans and tofu, I talked with the organizers about the value of
> Emerson buying an island in SecondLife
> (SL) for a thousand dollars in order to build a representation of their
> First Life campus. (Monthly service costs are about $250.) I still don't
> quite get it.
> Emerson and Harvard replicated their First World architecture in SL. [1]
> SecondLife simply becomes a novel Public Relations interface. By re-creating
> our existing institutions in the
> virtual world, we loose a chance to re-think these knowledge factories
> untied from the restrictions of economical restrictions. Nevertheless,
> Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet &
> Society uses their SL campus to offer courses open to the "public" and
> Emerson even experiments with 3D modeling classes and authors artworks.
> Berkman's use of its campus for long-distance learning ("courses open to
> the 'public'") is not interesting for me as there are only few examples of
> this kind of "e.learning" that made
> sense to me. Years ago, I used to take classes into Habbo Hotel in order
> for the students to get to know each other in this environment. That worked
> well, but why do we need to buy
> our own turf? Why do we need a replication of our own campus? Why not
> rather build a Black Mountain College with a Bauhaus Annex? Why teach in
> this virtual environment? Will
> SecondLife become a 3D version of Wikipedia, a virtual knowledge bank that
> offers a playful and fun interface to participant-generated content? Will
> students simply demand such
> playful access to knowledge?
> Josephine Dorado's Kids Connect project nicely illustrates some
> affordances of SL. [2] Avatars add a bit of social bandwidth and I respect
> Josephine's argument that SL offers a sense
> of connectedness that is hard to measure. Brian Holmes warns us that many
> fantasy scenarios are "deeply instrumentalized, and most often in the
> service of powerful agendas, put
> into effect by groups which have the ability to manipulate the basic
> parameters of our environments, be they 'virtual' or 'actual.'" I agree; the
> biggest problem with SL is that it is a
> proprietary space.
> The creative *labor* of the very very many financially benefits the very
> few. Monetary value is created in many ways (mere presence à la attention
> economy, creation of profiles,
> production of 3D objects, import of media content). Labor, with the
> Italian philosopher Paolo Virno, has become performance, the act of being a
> speaker. Labor is tied to speech acts
> and communication systems. [3] To paraphrase the old saying: The greatest
> trick that capital ever pulled was convincing the world that labor didn't
> exist. Labor, with most physical
> production work (except service, of course) now moved to the global south,
> becomes a "casualized," often distributed, immaterial activity that is even
> mistaken as leisure or plain
> "fun." It took peoplea while to realize that online architectures reflect
> the political post-Fordist structures of First Life. In 1992, for example,
> Digitale Stad was set up with the idea to
> "design a complex, multi-layered system that operates largely on the basis
> of the city metaphor." The experiment did not work out.
> Today, online architectures do not just simply mirror "First Life
> Capitalism," but the absence of awareness of servitude* is radically new.
> The Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert
> Marcuse put it well: "All liberation depends on the consciousness of
> servitude." This holds more true today than ever; many people in the US
> actually think that they are "happy" and
> perceive this distributed labor of the sociable web as a fun leisure
> activity. "We would do it anyway." The community becomes the product. I
> opened up these questions at Emerson--
> "(Un)ethical Capitalism and Sociable Web Media" (video cast, download m4b
> file, 11.4mb-- open in Quicktime, resize, duration: 40 minutes)
> http://www.molodiez.org/podcasts/episode_20070301_203115-0500.m4b
> What do YOU think about the exploitation of labor in sociable web media
> and virtual worlds in particular? Are there alternatives? Already after a
> short look at the demo of Solipsis, "the
> pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world" (and
> potential alternative to SL), it seemed rather disturbing in terms of its
> US-centrism. [4]
> I imagine SecondLife, currently in its early stages, as a useful place for
> a kind of rapid prototyping also in activist contexts. On the other hand,
> there is the danger that Second Life
> could just become a valve for social tension that should rather be played
> out in First Life, I partially agree with Charlie Gere. (A virtual speakers
> corner.) SL is ecologically harmful, I
> welcomed Julian Bleeker's reminder that there is no SecondLife without the
> materiality/resources of First Life. Giselle Beiguelman points to the
> cinematic "observation of the second
> order," with the avatar a step removed from us. This site could be a
> liberating place for experimentation with identity. What SL will be, remains
> to be seen; for now it requires the
> same kind of skill set that other participatory cultures call for; a
> toolbox that allows us to handle these environments in a way that serves our
> best interests and is aligned with our
> values and aspirations.
> TS
> [1] Harvard's Berkman Center in SL
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonz/238309925/
> [2] Kids Connect Project
> http://flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=198239256&context=set-72157594204191164&size=l
> [3]
> http://www.generation-online.org/p/pvirno.htm
> [4] Solipsis
> http://solipsis.netofpeers.net/wiki2/index.php/Main_Page
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