[iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory

Elizabeth Losh lizlosh at uci.edu
Sat Jun 13 15:42:29 UTC 2009

Hi Everybody,

It has been interesting to read people's introductions, and I hope to see
some of you face-to-face during June conference madness.

As some of you might know, my new book, Virtualpolitik, has a chapter
about book digitization that deals with the dematerialization of labor. 
For example, I love those moments in the Google Book Search project when
they accidentally upload images of the digitizer's hand blocking the page,
often a hand belonging to a woman or a person of color from which you can
sometimes even extrapolate a narrative about the information underclass
that is being reasserted, like a kind of return of the repressed.

To research the book, I also went to different sites where digitization
takes place to watch the human operators at work.

"Although the digitization of information is often represented in the news
media as a purely technical, totally automated, single-step process, as
the workers of present-day Chester know, the transubstantiation that takes
place in the local plant every day involves human commerce and specific,
sometimes conflicting, social codes about labor practices, work cultures,
annotation conventions, legal agreements, and professional associations."

In the next book, I'm writing a chapter about the Open Courseware movement
and its associated automagical thinking about emergence, perpetual gift
economies, and free labor that ignores how course materials need to be
translated for classroom use and how they often fail to function as a kind
of easily convertible and easily monetized academic currency, despite the
highest hopes of Open Courseware boosters who fantasize that digital files
from course websites could be treated exactly like peer-reviewed

To get a sense of the fabulously baroque histories of the future being
written about these supposedly precious commodities, check out David
Wiley's "2005–2012: The OpenCourseWars" at

Recently, with xtine, Peter Krapp, Mark Nunes, Rich Edwards, and Ted
Gournelos, I was part of two panels about a similar theme: "Free . . . As
in Labor."  I think Trebor has invited them to join the discussion here as


Elizabeth Losh
Writing Director
Humanities Core Course
HIB 188, U.C. Irvine
Irvine, CA 92697

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