[iDC] some thoughts on digital labor and populations

jeremy hunsinger jhuns at vt.edu
Sat Jun 13 12:33:34 UTC 2009

Hi,  I actually want to place my position as 'realism'  not 'oldism'   
nor 'newism'  In this discussion, I'm particularly against 2 forms of  
promotion one is novelty and its associated fictions, and the other is  

I don't think that I argued that 'nothing changes'   what I was trying  
to say is that fundamentally the human condition in late capitalism  
hasn't changed.  Now you can argue that there is new, exciting  
differences, and surely there are, but then i bring up the questions,  
for whom, for what, and why...

On Jun 13, 2009, at 12:34 AM, Michael Bauwens wrote:

> Hi Jeremy,
> it seems to me there are two pitfalls to avoid when we discuss  
> changes,
> one is oldism, nothing really ever changes, one is newism,  
> everything is changing all at once.
> It seems to me that your point of view is very close to oldism ...  
> yes, we are all still struggling to live and eat and love and pay  
> rent, just as it was 20 30 years ago, we are still watching media,  
> still buying stuff ...
> - but are we watching the same media and doing the same things with  
> them?

have to say this will depend on how you look at things, i tend to look  
at things as systems of practices and conventions/norms which become  
institutionalized.   So from my perspective, certain technologies in  
web 2.0 relate to new practices.  However, in terms of things like  
'watching' tv, 'listening' to music, etc.,  'playing' games,  we may  
have added another level of mediation, but I am not always convinced  
that the layer of mediation has changed things.  For instance, there  
was a huge cultural change surrounding music with the development of  
the sony walkman... but did the mp3/ipod change the practices in  
significant ways, yes perhaps in terms of purchasing, as you can argue  
about the downfall of the 'album', but did it change consumption of  
said music, i'd have to think that it isn't as much we'd think.   The  
question is one of data and interpretation, in the end, but there  
needs to be some basis for the discussions and arguments about labour,  

> - are we buying the same things and listening to the same people  
> when we buy?

I have changed brands of toothpaste.   now where did that influence  
come from?  I think it came from standing in the grocery store trying  
to find the one i was using and being unable, so moving to a more  
stable brand.  Now, don't get me wrong there have been huge changes in  
grocery shopping in the last 20 years.  However, I'm not that  
convinced that the practices are that different.

> - are we doing the same things when we're not working, and working  
> the same?

Maybe... maybe not.  This is the central question isn't it?  I think  
the problem here is that the debate was centered on a smallish  
population which is somewhat unrepresentative of the human condition.   
However, you may argue, for instance, as we have heard argued.... that  
the olpc's presence in the developed world will revolutionize their  
economies, etc. etc.  transform them etc. etc.  I prefer to remain  
skeptical.  Some people did become somewhat more wealthy with the  
advent of the olpc.  I have not seen widespread social or economic  

> What does it mean for a society when most media buys are bought by  
> peer recommendation?

I don't know about you, but when i was a kid, that is how i bought  

> What does it mean when an increasing number of  mothers go to  
> Mumsnet instead of asking their doctor?

Is that different from talking to their church group or other social  
discussion they were likely involved in before it was mediated?

> What does it mean when 58% of the citizens of Malmo are reportedly  
> engaged in one form of peer production or another?

seems pretty small population, i suspect a definition error in the  
survey.  I don't think i could get less than 98% if we defined it as  
producing things with other people.

> So I would find it more productive to look at these changes and see  
> to what degree they have changed life and the structure of society,  
> to see what has changed, what not, etc... rather than say, 'nothing  
> has changed'.

I'd prefer to remain skeptical that there is 'change', especially  
massive change until we actually find a way that demonstrates that it  
is happening.  Otherwise, i think we are just fetishizing the  
practices of a minority, and in doing that we are reifying those  
practices and likely universalizing them in ways that are unwarranted.

Don't get me wrong, things do change, but then again the question is  
did they change in a way that is reflected for the majority of  
people?  likely not, and if not, why are we focussing our efforts on  
the minority, when the difference might just be the difference between  
the majority and the minority, instead of the minority at time x  
versus the minority at time z.

> Living in Chiang Mai before the internet age would have been  
> dramatically different for us 'expats', as reported by the old  
> timers I have discussed the issue with, as are the much more intense  
> relations of diasporic immigrant communities with their homeland.
> The idea that these changes are only affecting an elite is also very  
> questionable. I live in Thailand, where there are a multitude of  
> cybercafe's in city streets, and you will find them in the most  
> remote villages; there are reports that it has quite dramatically  
> changed the life of Chinese workers, who skype their families in the  
> villages, and look up comparative wage scales, moving to regions and  
> factories where higher, leading to a substantial rise in wages ..  
> (I'm sure there were other factors, but that one shouldn't be  
> discounted, as reported by labor organizers).
> Again, I'm not saying that everything has changed, that all is for  
> the better, but would you argue that the invention of print did not  
> contribute to major changes in social structures, however long that  
> took. And is it not to be expected that a massive increase in  
> hitherto impossible peer communication and media expression would  
> contribute to important social changes ...

That isn't really what I was arguing, I was trying to make a point of  
the construction of 'profound change' and 'novelty', but I do agree  
with you.  The question for me is really how we present the change and  
it's real effects.  The digital diaspora is a great case of how  
information technology has enabled a population to maintain social  
ties across great distances, and likely changed the relations of their  
everyday lives.  People can now call home, text, etc. and maintain  
those contacts.  That transforms what we mean by diaspora and  
transforms the practices around it.

But does it change labour for most people? profoundly?

> Count me as a sceptic regarding the nothing has changed thesis,
> Michel

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