[iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory

Fred Stutzman fred at fredstutzman.com
Tue Jun 9 15:38:32 UTC 2009

Greetings all,

Thank you to Trebor for sparking this interesting discussion.  I've  
been a member of iDC for the past few years and I'm looking forward to  
the Digital Labor conference.  As a doctoral student at UNC's school  
of Information and Library Science, my work explores various facets of  
identity and privacy in social media.  My research has centered on  

As a long-time user of the "social" web, I am particularly interested  
in the turn towards identification that is a hallmark of "late" social  
media.  When we first started asking Facebook users about the type of  
information they shared, I was shocked to find the level of detail and  
self-reported accuracy of the information contributed to the digital  
public.  This signaled a shift from a pseudononymous web, one in which  
there wasn't a normative connection between on online and offline  

Popular discourse surrounding identity disclosure argued that young  
people were more narcissistic, they desired to live openly, and they  
didn't care about privacy.  While each generation is different, these  
simple explanations for privacy behaviors fell flat.  I have argued  
that identity disclosure is strongly affected by boundary setting and  
by salient coverage.  Boundary setting refers to the level of control  
one has over the "space" of disclosure; Salient coverage refers to the  
extent to which salient others co-participate in the space.  Put  
another way, network "closeness" is a strong motivator for a wide  
range of social media behaviors.

Over time, we've observed Facebook (and other social media sites)  
change in terms of "closeness."  Facebook is now widely popular, and  
closeness is diminished.  As a result, norms have shifted towards  
privacy, and in our last survey we found exceptionally high adoption  
of privacy controls.  With regard to the discussion at hand, I would  
like to raise two points.

First, I see the shift toward identification on the social web as a  
particularly interesting cycle.  I would argue that this normative  
shift has 1) de-marginalized participation and 2) legitimized the  
internet as a popular social channel.  To go from the internet as a  
place of restrained identity to one where a wide range of individuals  
feel comfortable disclosing their names and identities in public  
represents nothing short of a paradigm shift for participation - as  
such, the labor pool is growing exponentially.

I would also argue that this shift is being used to erode privacy on a  
number of levels.  There has been much said about the shift toward  
"openness" caused by identified social software.  Mark Zuckerberg of  
Facebook has yearned for a perfectly open society.  I argue that our  
behavior in social media is both contextual and non-generalizable.  A  
shift towards identified participation does not indicate a popular  
desire for openness.  Further, I see inherent dangers in having this  
new ideology written into social software.  On Facebook, you are not  
"allowed" to be pseudononymous; lately we've seen Twitter destroying  
impersonator accounts.  This shifts limits our creativity, and opens  
new vectors of control; if we "write in" required openness into all  
software, then the software becomes an important apparatus in larger  
schemes of control.

As we mediate more of our social lives with software, we allow  
designers to shape the content and structure of our experience.  Of  
course, this is inherent to technology, and the shaping is a flexible,  
multi-group process.  What we haven't seen before is the scale at  
which this shaping operates, and we've yet yet to see how such a shift  
can affect broad experience.


On Jun 4, 2009, at 11:46 AM, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> Dear all,
> What follows is my introduction to the conference
> "The Internet as Playground and Factory," which will take place
> November 12-14 at the New School University in NYC.
> Over the next few months this list will serve as one of the places for
> discussion in preparation for the event and some of the exchanges  
> that we
> had on the iDC over the past few years are highly relevant to this  
> debate.
> These include:
> Social information overload/time http://is.gd/OaFq
> User labor http://is.gd/OaqD
> "Creative labor" http://is.gd/Oaue
> Labor and value http://is.gd/Oav5
> Fan labor http://is.gd/Oaxg
> Immaterial labor http://is.gd/OayA
> Enculturation  http://is.gd/OaA1
> Virtual worlds, education, and labor http://is.gd/OaAI
> I hope that you'll join this discussion.
> ==
> The Internet as Playground and Factory
> -- Introduction
> Today we are arguably in the midst of massive transformations in  
> economy,
> labor, and life related to digital media. 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.  
> 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. 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?
> 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.  
> They leave
> behind innumerable traces that speak to their interests,  
> affiliations, likes
> and dislikes, and desires. Large corporations then profit from this
> interaction by collecting and selling this data.  Social  
> participation is
> the oil of the digital economy. Today, communication is a mode of  
> social
> production facilitated by new capitalist imperatives and it has become
> increasingly difficult to distinguish between play, consumption and
> production, life and work, labor and non-labor.
> The revenues of today's social aggregators are promising but their
> speculative value exceeds billions of dollars. Capital manages to
> expropriate value from the commons; labor goes beyond the factory,  
> all of
> society is put to work. Every aspect of life drives the digital  
> economy:
> sexual desire, boredom, friendship — and all becomes fodder for  
> speculative
> profit. We are living in a total labor society and the way in which  
> we are
> commoditized, racialized, and engendered is profoundly and  
> disturbingly
> normalized. The complex and troubling set of circumstances we now  
> confront
> includes the collapse of the conventional opposition between waged and
> unwaged labor, and is characterized by multiple “tradeoffs” and  
> “social
> costs”—such as government and corporate surveillance. While individual
> instances are certainly exploitative in the most overt sense, the  
> shift in
> the overall paradigm moves us beyond the explanatory power of the  
> Marxian
> interpretation of exploitation (which is of limited use here).
> Free Software and similar practices have provided important  
> alternatives to
> and critiques of traditional modes of intellectual property to date  
> but user
> agency is not just a question of content ownership. Users should  
> demand data
> portability, the right to pack up and leave the walled gardens of
> institutionalized labor à la Facebook or StudiVZ. We should ask  
> which rights
> users have beyond their roles as consumers and citizens. Activists  
> in Egypt
> have poached Facebook's platform to get their political message out  
> and to
> organize protests. Google's Image Labeler transforms people’s  
> endless desire
> for entertainment into work for the company. How much should Google  
> pay them
> to tag an image? Such payment could easily become more of an insult  
> than a
> remuneration. Currently, there are few adequate definitions of labor  
> that
> fit the complex, hybrid realities of the digital economy.
> This conference confronts the urgent need to interrogate what  
> constitutes
> labor and value in the digital economy and it seeks to inspire  
> proposals for
> action. Currently, there are few adequate definitions of labor that  
> fit the
> complex, hybrid realities of the digital economy. The Internet as  
> Playground
> and Factory poses a series of questions about the conundrums  
> surrounding
> labor (and often the labor of love) in relation to our digital  
> present:
> Is it possible to acknowledge the moments of ruthless exploitation  
> while not
> eradicating optimism, inspiration, and the many instances of  
> individual
> financial and political empowerment?
> What is labor and where is value produced?
> Are strategies of refusal an effective response to the expropriation  
> of
> value from interacting users?
> How is the global crisis of capitalism linked to the speculative
> performances of the digital economy?
> What can we learn from the “cyber sweatshops” class-action lawsuit  
> against
> AOL under the Fair Labor Standards Act in the early 1990s?
> How does this invisible interaction labor affect our bodies? What  
> were key
> steps in the history of interaction design that managed to mobilize  
> and
> structure the social participation of bodies and psyches in order to  
> capture
> value?
> Most interaction labor, regardless whether it is driven by monetary
> motivations or not, is taking place on corporate platforms. Where  
> does that
> leave hopeful projections of a future of non-market peer production?
> Are transnational unionization or other forms of self-organization  
> workable
> acts of resistance for what several authors have called the “virtual
> proletariat”?
> Are we witnessing a new friction-free imperialism that allows  
> capital to
> profit from the unpaid interaction labor of millions of happy  
> volunteers who
> also help each other? How can we turn these debates into politics?
> How does the ideology of Web 2.0 work to deflate some of the more  
> radical
> possibilities of new social media?
> How can we maintain and enforce the rights to our own gestures, our
> attention, our content, and our emotional labor? In the near future,  
> where
> can we, personally, enter political processes that have an impact on  
> these
> issues?
> -Trebor Scholz
> http://digtallabor.org
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Fred Stutzman
Ph.D. Student and Teaching Fellow
School of Information and Library Science, UNC-Chapel Hill
fred at fredstutzman.com | (919) 260-8508 | http://fredstutzman.com/

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