[iDC] some thoughts on digital labor and populations

Anne Beffel abeffel at me.com
Mon Jun 8 16:58:23 UTC 2009

I've noticed a huge shift in how my students at Syracuse University  
relate to their worlds in social and physical terms, which I believe  
impact what they value, and ultimately shape the dominant cultural  
values. Namely, they are constantly checking facebook other social  
networking sites to remain "connected" and feel validated. Many of  
them talk about it as an addiction.

Cultural shifts are hard to define, but the majority of my students'  
appreciation for being present in the moment without some kind of  
technological interface has definitely decreased. With this decrease  
in appreciation comes a decrease in the ability to consciously place  
their attention on anything for a sustained amount of time without  
checking their technological interfaces.
-Anne Beffel
Associate Professor of Art
Time Arts/ Foundation
Syracuse University

On Jun 8, 2009, at 12:25 PM, jeremy hunsinger wrote:

>> Today we are arguably in the midst of massive transformations in
>> economy,
>> labor, and life related to digital media.
> I wonder if we are, and if we are, is it massive, and what then is the
> mass?   To what are we referring to when we consider massive in
> relation to economy; people, money, institutions, collective
> ideological functions, conventions?  surely if there is a change on a
> scale we'd be able to see it in some manner, and personally I've not
> seen it.  I see huge demographic changes, that's true, but not really
> huge cultural changes.   Perhaps I'm wrong, but my students at UIC
> weren't that into technology, they were very into paying bills and
> getting by, they used things like facebook, but then my mom is on
> facebook, I'm sort of surprised my grandmother isn't on it, but I
> suspect she is by proxy through her great grand-daughter.  However,
> when I look at their everyday lives they are not significantly
> different from what they were when I was a kid, 25-30 years ago.
> Perhaps the massive change is not there, and if it isn't... what is
> there?  what is changing?  Demographics are changing, and with that
> the tax burden is changing, and with that the mode of production is
> changing, but then the mode of production has been in transformation
> my whole life.  It is probably that categorically... if the mode of
> production doesn't change and adapt, it disappears.
>> The purpose of this conference is
>> to interrogate these dramatic shifts restructuring leisure,
>> consumption, and
>> production since the mid-century. In the 1950s television began to
>> establish
>> commonalities between suburbanites across the United States.
> I wonder if this is true.  I've seen the thesis, but... it was in the
> 60's that Baudrillard and others said it was a fiction.  It is a
> metanarrative, we tried to describe the new commonalities and promote
> them.  It seems like a story we tell, much like the stories we tell
> about all people in NYC being the same in some respect.  But having
> lived there, I can say... no, the commonalities are less common though
> more everyday, like most new yorkers that i knew had never been as far
> north as columbia university and even more had never been Astoria, in
> Queens, but they had all been past the Empire State Building.   I'm
> wondering if these commonalities are sort of like that...  'having
> walked past, driven past, etc. the Empire State Building.  Sort of
> like.. 'watching Archie Bunker'.  The 'mass audience' though based on
> common experience I think is somewhat of a misconception, and to think
> that television actually provided those shared commonalities I think
> is worrisome because it really isn't a very strong medium of
> distributed cognition.  As several people on this list can argue, when
> you watch Television with me, we have profoundly different experiences
> of what is going on, we might share a central narrative, but there is
> divergence in what we find important and interesting and how we react
> to that.
>> Currently,
>> communities that were previously sustained through national
>> newspapers now
>> started to bond over sitcoms. Increasingly people are leaving behind
>> televisions sets in favor of communing with -- and through-- their
>> computers. They blog, comment, procrastinate, refer, network, tease,
>> tag,
>> detag, remix, and upload and from all of this attention and all of
>> their
>> labor, corporations expropriate value.
> I'm wondering how this is different from the proliferation of men's
> and women's clubs in the 50's.  I'd say that socializing is a human
> process and communication is also, so we use whatever we have
> available, no?
>> Guests in the virtual world Second
>> Life even co-create the products and experiences, which they then
>> consume.
>> What is the nature of this interactive ?labor? and the new forms of
>> digital
>> sociality that it brings into being?  What are we doing to ourselves?
> Is it the labor of ergodic literature?  is it the labor of consumption
> like Baudrillard's Consummativity?  Is it the labor of non-knowledge/
> general economy from Bataille, or the labor of play from Homo Ludens?
> Here I think the term labor needs context no?  is that just me?
> Labor, as a recent critique of recent marxisms, has it.... has become
> as a part of discourse merely nominative, that is... it is a naming.
> I'd argue that labor is not a catch-all name.  Some things humans do
> are labor and laborious.   We need more context to understand what
> people are referring to when they say labor, because right now, either
> everything is labor... or nothing is.
>> Only a small fraction of the more than one billion Internet users
>> create and
>> add videos, photos, and mini-blog posts. The rest pay attention.
> do they?  I've seen the estimates at approximately 25 million active
> contributors worldwide and around 10x that for followers.   You might
> argue that there are more, but I think we'd need some definitions.
> Given a global capitalist market of around 1 billion these days, that
> is an estimate of the number of people who make more than around 2000
> u.s. dollars per year, meaning that they have expendable income beyond
> food, clothing, shelter.    To me that seems we are talking of a very
> small minority in a world of almost 7 billion people where unesco says
> there are at least 1 billion children living in abject poverty.  I
> mean we're talking about a very small global elite.   Even if you
> increase the estimates of producers and consumers by an order of
> magnitude, you still have a global minority.
> So I'm guessing that most people aren't paying attention at all.
> I'm currently working on, amongst many other projects, a
> conceptualization of 'the unconnected'.... that is.  the people who
> choose not to participate, who have participated online, performed
> online labor, and then left.  I'm thinking that this population might
> help us to see what is really going on a bit better.   Depending on
> where you are in the developed world up to 20% of internet users have
> stopped using the internet and went to other media/modes of
> communication.   I see this with email all the time.  People get
> really upset with email and give up, or blame other people, etc.
> Eventually some just quit.   Same thing happens in games, in second
> life, in facebook, etc. etc.  I ask... why do people leave?  What is
> really going on here?  some move on to other systems, others just stop
> participating....  why do they choose to disconnect.  I have an
> intuition that it is because of my first set of comments.  That is...
> people are trying to live their life and are just trying to get by,
> pay rent, etc.   They have friends, colleagues, in real life that they
> interact with and spend their time doing that.
> The question then is one of whether there is... for most people, any
> transformation at all.  I suspect there is a dabbling, but it is no
> where near as profound as we often attempt to make it, nor as profound
> as the economic speculation would have it.  The latter seems to
> becoming more true as facebook and myspace are being revalued as their
> growth seems to have been attenuated.
> Jeremy Hunsinger
> Center for Digital Discourse and Culture
> Virginia Tech
> Information Ethics Fellow
> Center for Information Policy Research
> Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.
> -Jules de Gaultier
> () ascii ribbon campaign - against html mail
> /\ - against microsoft attachments
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