[iDC] some thoughts on digital labor and populations

Michael Bauwens michelsub2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 15 04:44:10 UTC 2009

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for the precisions,

I think we could debate this forever, I'm arguing that things have changed, pointing to the evidence in the things that have changed, and you to the fact that things haven't changed that much, for most people, pointing to evidence in things staying the same. 

But I do not find this a very interesting debate. My approach would be, we now have technical possibilities to globally coordinate small teams to create very complex social artefacts, in ways that outcompete traditional capitalist wage-labour formats, that increase the level of autonomy in important ways.

How do we increase and protect that autonomy in the face of the integration of those practices in new adapted forms of capitalism, or even use them to go beyond those limits. Alternatively, we focus on the recuperation practices and decide that the 'adversary' has already won, and can return to our comfortable jobs of being paid to be critical, or just leave all those capabilities to others.

I find the minorities that decide to be co-creative more interesting, and this is the whole world, than those who prefer to consume passively, oblivious of the new potential, and believe that historically it is always such minorities that have caused change.

The labour movement of the 19th century fought hard for universal literacy, public libraries and access to education, and I believe contemporary organizers are doing just the same, they are not waiting for a hypothetical OPLC, but using the tools at hand ... Does that mean they are 'winning' ... of course not, not by itself, but it is part of the toolbox of change ...


----- Original Message ----
> From: jeremy hunsinger <jhuns at vt.edu>
> To: Michael Bauwens <michelsub2003 at yahoo.com>
> Cc: idc at mailman.thing.net
> Sent: Saturday, June 13, 2009 7:33:34 PM
> Subject: Re: [iDC] some thoughts on digital labor and populations
> 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 nostalgia.
> 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, no?
> > 
> > - 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 change.
> > 
> > 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 music.
> > 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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