[iDC] introduction

astrid mager astrid.mager at univie.ac.at
Wed Jun 4 11:27:47 UTC 2014

Dear Samuel, dear list,

your email finds me in the middle of a two-day conference and a two-week 
family trip, so please excuse me for a rather brief introduction.

I'm a postdoctoral researcher from Vienna  working at the Institute of 
Technology Assessment. My background is in science and technology 
studies (STS) and my current research is concerned with search 
technology and how sociotechnical visions, value-systems, and ideologies 
shape search algorithms, but also business models based on practices of 
user profiling in different cultural contexts.

At the moment, I'm leading a project on search engines at the 
intersection of global capitalism and local (Austrian) socio-political 
cultures - obviously, the European level will be central here as a kind 
of middle ground for governance processes. The ongoing reform of the EU 
data protection legislation will be central in this analysis since it is 
an important arena where supposedly global search engines - Google first 
and foremost - are imagined and governed in European contexts. It's a 
site where tensions between US-American search engines/ social media and 
European, but also different national visions and values may be 
observed, where IT lobbying takes place on a grand scale, and where 
Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal plays a crucial role too.

The analysis of European visions and value-systems will then be compared 
to my past research on capitalist ideologies driving search engines in 
US-American contexts.That's where digital labor comes into play. I've 
argued that we need to go beyond the political economy of search engines 
to understand complex actor-networks and power relations involved in the 
construction and stabilization of big players like Google. Accordingly, 
content providers and users are not merely exploited by Google & co, but 
rather stabilize its powerful role and capital accumulation cycle by 
contributing mundane forms of labor - Profit is generated due to heavy 
sharing, liking, poking, messaging, watching videos, creating content 
etc. Drawing on contributions from critical theory (Althusser, Marx, 
Gramsci) I've conceptualized the notion algorithmic ideology to grasp 
co-shaping processes of algorithmic logics and socio-cultural values, 
capitalist ideologies in particular.

Grounded in this body of work, I'll talk about "digital labor, 
capitalist ideology, and alternative future" at #DL14. I will discuss 
how ideology critique can help us to understand the gridlock of mundane 
forms of digital labor that help corporate search engines (and social 
media etc.) to further expand, exploit, and commodify larger and larger 
parts of the web (and social reality). However, I will further discuss 
how users may opt out of Google's capital accumulation cycle and what 
role "organic intellectuals" (Gramsci 2012) can play in challenging 
hegemonic actors like Google, Facebook, Twitter, ...

If you got interested in my work, you'll find further information/ 
publications etc on my blog:


or you just get in touch with me on twitter, facebook etc. - ironically, 
I'm using these tools to share critical ideas about search engines, 
social media, and so forth.. - underlining the dialectical nature of the 
digital objects we are working with.. hehe.

I guess that's all for now. I'm looking forward to interesting 
discussions and an exciting time at #DL14!!!
Have a nice summer! Best, Astrid

Am 03.06.14 21:19, schrieb Samuel Tannert:
> 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 alienating.
> 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
> tl;dr
> Instagram is hard
> Digital Labor is everywhere
> Hollywood is OK, sometimes, I guess
> #DL14
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