[iDC] some thoughts on digital labor and populations

Michael Bauwens michelsub2003 at yahoo.com
Sun Jun 21 09:15:11 UTC 2009

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for that input. 

I think there are two issues that help answer whether or not the internet induces change, and these are speed and transaction/coordination costs.

If two parties are competing and in conflict, and one can act in a more speedy fashion, it will win; the other is transaction costs: the parties that can afford the investment in speed and communication vs. those that cannot.  I think this is why, after tribal times, organized nations could beat tribes; and capitalist markets could win out from centralized planning. I'm convinced by the Dunbar numbers: no human brain can organize more than 150 relationships so that any community that exceeds those numbers reverts to hierarchical simplification, which allows it to organize on a larger scale; he also refers to 500 as the limit to which a community cannot self-reproduce without strong and stable hierarchy.

This is the fundamental change that I see, and which I have called Peak Hierarchy, because of the dramatic fall in transaction/coordination costs, it is now possible to coordinate global projects without  centralized command and control, and the wikipedia and free software and now the open design communities are testimony to this possibility; not only can they do it, but they can do it better and faster. When I started working in my 20's, there was very little I could do outside of the work environment in terms of translocal communication, knowledge building and cooperative design, now the situation has reversed, it is almost universally possible to do more outside of the corporate frameworks than inside of them. The institutions and corporations have become a drag.

This situation of asymmetric competition between distribution and hierarchical/corporate institutions create interesting dynamics. One is that communities try to operate outside of those limitations, and the other is that the older forms try to adapt and recuperate the new potential. To retain control they use all kinds of protocollary power, which steers the new forms of social cooperation into a framework that benefits them.

This to me then is the interesting future bifurcation: either a incorporation of the new in the old system, or a phase transition towards some new type of arrangement where the new 'peer to peer' logic becomes central.

Historically, before such phase transitions have occured, the new always started by strenghtening the old, i.e. the use of coloni strengthening the survival of the old Roman system, the capitalist innovations strengthening the feudal system, etc ... However, the paradox is that by using these new forms, they eventually ended up strengthening them, and being replaced by them.

You may of course say that autonomy is all but impossible, and I would agree if you define it as an absolute, at the same time, it is undeniable that peer producing communities are emerging and that they are seeking the best ways to reproduce themselves and remain sustainable and protect their core 'peer to peer' logic of collaboration. The way they do this now is by adapting to the mainstream society, by allying themselves with corporate players, creating hybrid realities. This is the new form of core struggle that will determine the shape of the new social formations that are being born in this transitional time.


----- Original Message ----
> From: jeremy hunsinger <jhuns at vt.edu>
> To: Michael Bauwens <michelsub2003 at yahoo.com>
> Sent: Monday, June 15, 2009 10:27:16 PM
> Subject: Re: [iDC] some thoughts on digital labor and populations
> > 
> >> there has to the best of my knowledge been a transnational elite class 
> capable
> >> of the actions you indicate for a very long time.
> > 
> > before the internet, only members of multinationals had this capability, 
> through private networks, but that possibility has now been widely extended, 
> though you could argue that it is still an elite .., but that isn't necessarily 
> pejorative
> Well here I'm not sure.  In the 20's with the telegraph, and new travel.  In 
> Ancient greece we could think of what aristotle called 'tribes' being forms of 
> 'corporation' that acted much the same way, coordinating across expanses with a 
> combination of protocols and communication.  here protocol means more of, in 
> case of x, we will always do y'
> The case i originally was going to talk about here was trade families in Doge 
> era Venice.  They managed a great deal of coordination without the intarwebs :)  
> including managing chains of production that yielded products.   Granted, we are 
> always talking about elites.  The question i've pointed to before is... Why are 
> we we talking about the elites?  are there other elites?
> > 
> >>> 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.
> >> 
> >> Why do we want to?  perhaps autonomy is just an ideological construct 
> developed
> >> from the individualism of modernity.  I'd suspect that 'autonomous workers' 
> are
> >> ideal for capital, and we can see this in recent debates about mobility of
> >> workforces.  Why is it that governments want to create mobile autonomous
> >> workforces?  It would seem in the digital age that people could on the other
> >> hand work from where they want to live and telecommute to where there labor 
> is
> >> needed?
> > 
> > I'm interested only in the autonomy which attempts to go beyond capital.
> The question is .. can it?  Camatte says it cannot.  It really will depend on 
> how you extend the idea of autonomy through the conceptual field.   I tend to 
> think that you do not really get autonomy outside of capital in the contemporary 
> age.   Cognitive capitalism is nearly pervasive, and you can find people that 
> will and do perform acts of commensuration and valuation across all norms.
> > 
> >> 
> >>> 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'm not paid to be critical.
> > 
> > sorry, I assumed you were an academic from your edu address 
> sure, that doesn't mean i'm paid to be critical.   not everyone takes the 
> critical standpoint.  I generally do, but I'd be doing this sort of intellectual 
> labor, pay or not, it is more of a way of being in the world.   I'm not paid to 
> be critical though.  I'm critical without pay, and when i am paid, it is almost 
> always for some other set of skills, usually technical skills, teaching skills, 
> research skills, etc.
> > 
> > 
> >>> 
> >> yes, but change for what.  Andrew Carnegie funded hundreds of libraries, what
> >> was his goal in that?  It was to benefit mankind, much along the way that a
> >> mobile workforce benefits mankind.  Education does help, but here we have the
> >> issue of... 'what education','whose education'.
> > 
> > absolutely
> > 
> >   orally transmitted culture.
> >> 
> >> in any case, there is usually a bit of bias in the historical ideas of 
> literacy
> >> and education....  They are not usually found to be tools that serve autonomy 
> in
> >> any necessary way...  The usually do benefit people though (at least to my
> >> enlightenment ideals mindset). They could..., but here i find the story of 
> the
> >> term 'literacy' to be somewhat informative, but that i think is a huge 
> debate.
> > 
> > 
> > would you prefer then to restrict literacy to an elite?
> no, i would just admit that the state of being literate is not what we should 
> aim for, for all people.  We should aim significantly higher.  Literacy serves a 
> very clear purpose in labour systems.  My goal is to move students beyond being 
> literate to more of a 'culture of learning' where they will just keep learning, 
> which they do in many ways otherwise, but the goal is get people to that level, 
> where they will move beyond literacy and self-educate, etc.   Though.. that does 
> not always work for a wide variety of reasons.
> > 
> >> 
> >> 
> >>> Michel
> > 
> > 
> > 


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