[iDC] Introduction

mroberts1 mroberts1 at gmail.com
Wed Jun 10 15:03:24 UTC 2009

Greetings all,

Trebor has invited me to introduce myself - I'm a faculty member at
Eugene Lang College, The New School, where I teach in the Media and
Cultural Studies major, including a course on piracy and another on TV
and new media. My research background was in French Studies and I have
a strong interest in avant-garde movements from Dada to Situationism
and their legacies in pop culture (Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces
remains a major reference point), as well as contemporary digital
culture. I'm currently working on a book which explores the role of
the transcultural in the articulation of subcultural identities, from
Japanese hip-hop to US anime fandom.

With regard to the concerns of the conference around digital labor,
I'm interested in the relation between labor and leisure, and the
disappearance of the distinction between the two: if labor in the
digital economy is often characterized as a form of play (I design
videogames for a living - how cool is that?!), the flipside is that
leisure has become a new form of labor. The contemporary discourse on
productivity, indeed, continually exhorts us to make even what little
free time remains to us to become more productive citizens. Even
sleep, ostensibly the ultimate restorative refuge from labor, has
become a frontier for the productivity doctrine, an area to be *worked
on,* with a multitude of lifehacking blogs explaining how to make
sleep more "efficient" or even abolish it altogether

Within this context, I'm especially interested in the deployment of
the concept of FUN in the contemporary discourse on productivity.
Historically, fun is an experience of pleasure which has tended to be
associated with spheres of experience *outside* labor time: its
archetypal example remains Coney Island, a kind of benign inversion of
industrial production in which decommissioned coal trucks are
converted into adventure rides. The very concept of an "amusement
park" seems antithetical to everything the factory stands for in terms
of production, commodified labor, and clocked time. The dissolution of
this distinction, as Stephen Duncombe has suggested, can be read in
the transition from IBM's Organization Man to Sony's Media Producer,
dramatized at Sonyworld, where work and play become indissociable. In
contemporary digital culture, a proliferating chorus of voices insist
that productivity is "fun," or explain how we can have fun while also
being productive. Contrary to such assertions, I'm interested in
exploring new forms of non-productive fun, and dedicated to the
heretical idea--at least today--that fun is by definition

Updating Veblen, I'd suggest that we need a contemporary theory of the
productive class, which would consider amongst other things how
productivity has replaced leisure as the basis for social distinction
in postmodern society. Digital technologies and the conspicuous
production they facilitate are clearly at the heart of that project.
Some of the other ideas outlined here may also be seen as possible
starting-points for the elaboration of such a theory, which I'd like
to call From Slackers To Hackers.

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