[iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sat Jun 13 13:28:01 UTC 2009


>Why see this as the exclusive benefit of capital, and be blind to how
>people are using these services for the construction of their own
>lives, using what is at hand.

Hm,... from the conference introduction and my posts here I had hoped that
it was clear that I am not suggesting a relationship marked by one-sided
benefit. For the past ten years I have participated in countless social
milieus and created a few myself. On reflection, I'd now say that the most
pervasive relationship online is

a praise-entertainment---expropriation-surveillance tradeoff

between users and operators. I know, it's a mouth-full but as a German I
have a deep appreciation for seemingly unending words.

Google's Image Labeler is a suitable example. The developer of the game
behind the Image Labeler wrote that he encourages people to do the work by
taking advantage of their desire to be entertained. It's a triadic mix of
self-interest ("fun," acknowledgment), network value (the image search gets
better), and corporate profit (Google's product improves).

Then there is public-spirited 'interaction labor' on a small number of sites
like Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, etc. At least today, they are the
exception. Only very few of the over 1 billion Internet users contribute to
these projects.  

And finally, if a worker gets paid $8 for transcribing a 45 minute-long
video on Mechanical Turk, then I'd call that exploitation in the most
technical sense of the word. However, it's expropriation and not
exploitation that rules the net. I added a few comments about MTurk to my
blog http://is.gd/10JG2

Surely, I'm not suggesting a simple typology; things are murky.

Perhaps we can think of exhibitions like Les Immateriaux by Lyotard and
Chaput in 1984, and artworks with Internet components like Learning to Love
You More by Fletcher and July (2003) as miniature mirror worlds of today's
tradeoffs when it comes to the social dynamics of participation...

Today, it quickly gets dicey, for instance, when the creators of Facebook's
self-translation application state that they have opened up the translation
process [of the Facebook interface into some 63 languages] to the community
because "You know best how Facebook should be translated into your
language.² I don't think of this as straight exploitation but one user in
Los Angeles (Valentin Macias) suggested that "people should not be tricked
into donating their time and energy to a multimillion-dollar company so that
the company can make millions more ­ at least not without some type of
compensation." Others enjoyed being in the position of co-deciding how
"poking" is translated into their language. At the same time, they have more
of a stake in the company; they become more loyal costumers of Facebook.
Nigel Thrift was right when he proposed that "Š value is embedded in the
experiences co-created by the individual in an experience environment that
the company co-develops with consumers." (Thrift, Reinventing 290)

> Unless we start peer producing infrastructures ourselves, the
> sharing mode by itself is not strong enough to sustain itself.

I could not agree more, Michel, and look forward to developing a strand of
the conference that is dedicated to that.


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