[iDC] the exploited...

Nicholas Ruiz III editor at intertheory.org
Thu Jun 11 12:55:45 UTC 2009

Interesting thoughts/introductions, thanks for your time everyone...

Didacticism aside...however sincere...what is the use value of a concept like 'the exploited'? ...unless one plans to argue for a tiered system of exploitation, even while calling it something else - is the janitor exploited? the subway clerk? professional surfer? hollywood actress? homeless actor? university professor? students? the mgmt. of xyz corp.? lily allen?

...in other words, the endpoint of such a criticism regarding the terms of 'the exploited,' leaves us with what exactly, in the end? A politics of exploitation? A calculus of acceptable levels of exploitation, in opposition to unacceptable levels of exploitation? Who decides? And have we already, decided? Are we always, in the process of in-decision? Or rather, it is undecidable, as an ethical aporia?

pax et lux

 Nicholas Ruiz III, Ph.D
Editor, Kritikos

From: Mark Andrejevic <markbandrejevic at gmail.com>
Cc: idc at mailman.thing.net
Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2009 3:23:10 AM
Subject: [iDC] Exploitation....

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 one.  
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.comhttp://twitter.com/hrheingold
http://www.rheingold.com http://www.smartmobs.com/
what it is ---> is --->up to us

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