[iDC] Exploitation....

Mark Andrejevic markbandrejevic at gmail.com
Thu Jun 11 07:23:10 UTC 2009

Howard's post got me thinking about the need to tighten up an understanding
of what we might mean by the term "exploitation." The very broad sense in
which it is often used -- to indicate that someone else benefits from our
labor -- isn't a particularly useful one. Theoretically it remains amorphous
(how might it distinguish between collaborative labor and working in a
sweat shop?) and practically it isn't much of a rallying cry ("Help, I'm
being exploited because the value of my neighbor's house went up when I
painted mine!").

I'd suggest (as a preliminary foray) that a meaningful political sense of
the term (one that allows us to critique exploitation) would have to include
at least two aspects:
1) a sense of loss of control over the results of our own productive
activity (especially when these are turned back against us) and
2) structured relations of power that compel this loss of control, even when
it looks like the result of "free" exchange.
I don't feel a loss of control over my own productive activity when
I contribute to a Wikipedia entry that may benefit others. On the other
hand, I might be more likely to feel this loss of control when I
discover, say, that details of my online activity have been collected,
sorted, and packaged as a commodity for sale to people who may use it to
deny me access to a job or to manipulate me based on perceived
vulnerabilities, fears, and other personal details about my mental or
physical well being. If I find myself in a position wherein I have to submit
to this kind of monitoring as a condition of access to resources that I need
to earn my livelihood or maintain my social relations in a networked era, I
might be more likely to think of this situation as a truly exploitative

When it starts to become tricky -- at least conceptually -- is when my work
on Wikipedia (or tagging, or participating in other forms of UGC production)
gets folded into the demographic/psychographic/geographic/(eventually
biometric) forms of profiling that form the basis for the emerging online
commercial economy. Still a meaningful conception of exploitation might help
distinguish between the different productive roles of our online activity --
and between infrastructures that are more or less exploitative.

On Sat, Jun 6, 2009 at 7:11 AM, Howard Rheingold <howard at rheingold.com>wrote:

> Trebor asked me to introduce myself in regard to his post and the
> conference on "The Internet as Playground and Factory"
> I've written "Tools for Thought," "The Virtual Community," and "Smart
> Mobs." Two of those books are online at http://www.rheingold.com . I
> teach "Social Media" and Berkeley and Stanford and "Digital
> Journalism" at Stanford.
> I agree with much of what you say, Trebor, but I would only add that
> I'm entirely delighted to let Yahoo stockholders benefit from flickr.
> It's not only a great service for sharing my own images, but a place
> where I can find Creative-Commons licensed images to use in
> presentations and videos. Maybe that at the same time we look closely
> at the way commercial interests have colonized public behavior, we
> ought to look at the way profit motives have made available useful
> public goods. May Yahoo and Google live long and prosper as long as I
> can view and publish via Flickr and YouTube. And if this means that
> I've blurred the line between my recreation and my labor, I have to
> testify that even after reflection I don't mind it at all. It's
> pleasurable, in fact. And I'm equally delighted that Google gives away
> search to attract attention, some of which Google sells to
> advertisers. I remember that when I first got online with a modem, the
> cost of accessing skimpy information online via Lexis/Nexis and other
> paid data services was way beyond my means. Now I get answers for any
> question in seconds. How many times a day were  YOU exploited by
> searching for something without paying a charge for the service?
> Informed consent seems to me to be crucial -- I choose to be
> exploited, if exploitation is how you want to see my uploading and
> tagging my photographs and videos. More people ought to reflect on who
> is profiting from their online activity, and it seems entirely
> reasonable to me that many would decide not to be exploited. I would
> never argue that people should refrain from witholding their labor, if
> that's what they want to do. Otherwise, I'm all for asking all the
> questions Trebor proposes, which is why I assign students to read
> "What the MySpace generation needs to know about working for free."
> Howard Rheingold howard at rheingold.com http://twitter.com/hrheingold
> http://www.rheingold.com  http://www.smartmobs.com
> http://vlog.rheingold.com
> what it is ---> is --->up to us
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