[iDC] Instagram & Introductions

Samuel Tannert samuel.tannert at gmail.com
Tue Jun 3 19:19:32 UTC 2014

Cross-pollination is the key to life. In the abstract, I mean.
Communication, the process of producing difference, et cetera.

I took on the Instagram feed for #DL14, but I am yet to figure out how
exactly to take photos of digital labor. I have never been a photo
archivist in any meaningful way. The whole act seems too much effort --
take out the camera, lens-cap off / camera-app on, frame-focus-shoot -- and
so none of my Facebook photos are my own. And I have never been good with
aesthetics in any meaningful way. Possibly a fear of taste? I desired white
jeans one winter, but mostly a top-of-the-pile heuristic has helped me
through the daily fashion requirement. Despite my own inadequacies,
however, the Instagram must go on/line!

Initially I wanted it stylish/-ized with a particular form, e.g. always the
hands or just handwritten words. Repetition is advantageously reductionist
in that the pattern has certain intertextual demands which can substitute
for  nuanced critique, passing the buck from artist to audience; a cabinet
of curiosities speaks in a way a baseball-card collection cannot.. "I
think." Digital labor seems to me more than a series of instances to be
cataloged. Digital technologies are so pervasively immanent, "at once
everywhere and soon to come everywhere else," and the more I think about
what to photogram the more it seems I would have to capture the world
itself. Labor_Digital14 sits empty. Much/All of my time has been spent
thinking about what is possible:

A photo of hands typing on a keyboard is a necessity. & texting. If you
crunch the numbers we spend something like 60% of our waking day doing this
and I think omission would be deceit, here. The salient bit is that digital
labor can be captured at the point of human action on the interface -- a
kind of straightforward realist framing which blurs the difference between
perception by the tool & that of the human. This conflation demands a
search for all sorts of interesting interactions with different digital
technologies, looking with the eye and capturing with the camera: e.g.
programming the VCR #throwbackthursday, gaming keyboards
#MoreButtonsThanGod, or an 11-hour time-lapse of a keyboard in use #2real.

Then there's the tension between the screen and the camera -- that strange
distance provoked by a photo of a monitor or someone videotaping the TV. It
doesn't really work, right? The extra agential layer puts the user at such
a level of abstraction from the object that the role the representing
apparatus plays becomes frustratingly apparent -- 'learn to take a
screenshot, buddy!' And that's it: the screenshot understands the digital
environment without the additional abstraction in a kind of
Bogost/alien-phenomenology, 'what does the object see?' I keep wanting to
use the word 'hyperreal' for semantic integrity, but the baggage would
suggest that the objects captured are somehow merely symbolic which I don't
mean at all.. Either way, the capturing of the digital environment still
demands a searching, but within hyperspace and with hyperspatial vision.

And that all is just the first-order stuff! Then you've got the innumerable
material and ideal abstractions of digital labor, reductively defined:
industry and theory & art. On one hand I could seek out that activity which
our digital activities are predicated upon, e.g. the ConEd guy out front of
the apartment with a jackhammer at 2 AM or, taken far more seriously, the
now infamous 'FoxConn girl' selfie. On the other hand I could go PostSecret
and photograph the symbolic abstraction, e.g. whiteboard sketch-ups,
highlighted quotations in worn books, art & more art in its broadest sense.
If you allow some kind of abstraction everything becomes associated with
digital labor, ~'no outside to capitalism.'

Digital Labor: DIGITAL LABOR. BIG. To really understand it you have to come
from all these different angles.. and that's been Hollywood's problem all
along, no? You can capture the person using the interface, but it's
 someone just someone tak-a-taking away; or you can capture the on-screen
image, but it's just a bunch of boring input boxes. The synthetic
experience of using a computer is really difficult to capture from outside,
and also in our real lives -- watching someone use a computer is painfully

So the film industry's first instinct was to only engage with digital
technologies through science fiction and I think this worked pretty well.
Either interfaces were made gesture/voice controlled so that action &
intent were apparent, or hyperspace was made material through Hackers-esque
VR goggles and graphical user interfaces (e.g., [HACK MAINFRAME] [CANCEL]).
Then for a while they settled on a 3-quarters over-the-shoulder shot in a
kind of defeatist realism, but now that's changing! Shows are using
overlays with the screen display stuck on top of the picture, a kind of
hyper-/material collage: House of Cards, Sherlock, used often with texting.
It's all very stylish and I can only imagine that there was extensive
audience testing done -- kidding.. maybe? It really is a significant
advance in capturing our experience of digital technologies, affect of a
higher fidelity. We have realized that one part of the act simply won't do.

So why Instagram at all? Is it necessary? Useful? I think it has to be,
because we live in a world of digital labor. The 'experience' of digital
technologies extends beyond the productive sphere and has wormed its way
into life itself. It is grafted to our collective being. & Instagram is set
up for this capturing of instances, not in the sense of a Google Image
Search ontology, but a Web-2.0 stream epistemology. Instagram is useful in
that it allows the crowd-sourcing of a particular aspect of the whole which
is most descriptive in combination with other methods of knowing.

Turn left and I'm sure you could see this move coming, but I mean to be
very sincere: I really think that #DL14 will succeed in this way, in the
sense of a more complete picture than we have ever had before. The
Instagram aside, I have had the pleasure of reading innumerable abstracts
for projects of all kinds coming at the problem of digital labor from so
many angles (3 x BIG) -- a proper attempt at mapping the kosmos. More
subdued: we are all in for a treat.

A number of presentations tackle the problem of digital labor with a very
realist edge, from the panel of Amazon Mechanical Turk workers which will
provide a first-hand account of the emerging crowd-sourcing industry to
Henry Warwick's solo-performance of Terry Riley's "In C," written for 11 to
35 performers, which will make visible the 'redundancies' in the labor
market caused by digital technologies. Others will engage with the
hypermaterial, from Karin Hansson's social-networking platform
AffectMachine which attempts to commodify human interaction to Carl DiSalvo
and his team's reconfiguration of civil society as something which can be
'hacked' through the development of grassroots digital infrastructure.
Others will be slightly abstracted: Miriam Cherry will be giving an account
of the legal framework through which minimum wage could be extended to
crowd-workers, Gavin Mueller will be giving a history of the piracy/'warez'
scene, Frank Pasquale will work through the question of whether we might
someday "automate the automators" by replacing the managerial class with
algorithmic processes. There will even be a stand-up comedy routine by Benj
Gerdes, which I hope will let us laugh despite the often overwhelming
confrontation which is the conference's focus. There are so many fantastic
projects that I do not have the space to list here, and I am awestruck,
really, at just how unique each submission was.

I have incredibly high hopes for #DL14 as an opportunity for a meaningful
advance of the whole field of digital labor studies. Youthful idealism
included, I feel like we live in a period of particular import as both
departure and genesis, situated as we are at the turn of the millennium.
There could not be an assembly more capable of shouldering that
responsibility than all of you.

Please introduce yourselves.

H M Theinert


Instagram is hard
Digital Labor is everywhere
Hollywood is OK, sometimes, I guess
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