[iDC] introduction

Samuel Tannert samuel.tannert at gmail.com
Fri Jun 27 19:55:29 UTC 2014

Dear Astrid,

I read your 2014 publications -- really fascinating stuff! The analysis of
alternative search engines was a great challenge to their viability as a
counter-hegemonic tactic. Yesterday I would have championed Duck Duck Go,
but today the world seems different! Have you used YaCy? Despite the lack
of 'critical mass' did you find it reasonably functional?

I must admit though, I did wonder if your conception of 'punishment' might
be an overextension, at least in its framing as an _intentional_ violence.
You say, describing Röhle's position,

>users who try to opt out of Google’s data collecting practices by changing
default privacy settings, reconfiguring their web browsers, or turning off
cookies are punished with less convenient services than cooperating users
get. This shows how Google makes ... users play by the rules.

To me this highlights not how coercive Google is, but rather how willing we
are to relinquish our privacy in exchange for efficiency. Without cookies
or data-tracking/profiling Google is _unable_ to serve us in the same way
it does 'cooperating users'. The data is simply unavailable. This seems to
be a major problem with arguments in favor of an exodus, which you
highlight in your acknowledgement of the lack of alternatives: if there is
nowhere to go then any such response is self-harm (at least in productive

So maybe this is a good transition into my second question: Who are the
traditional and organic intellectuals on today's field of battle?

Would you consider that today's organic intellectuals are not only Snowden
& Assange but also the leviathans of Silicon Valley & the start-up scene at
large? If we take Wark's notion of the emerging Vectorialist & Hacker
classes seriously, as two separate but related challenges to the dominant
Capitalist mode of production, we ought to see organic intellectuals in
both camps. What is so troubling, however, is that the Vectorialist class
seems able to buy off the leading figures of the Hacker class.
Info-should-be-free programmers seem to have a political price of a few
million dollars: buy the start-up, change their ideology. (I think Gramsci
called this 'molecular absorption.')

If we accept this analysis of the situtation, as traditional intellectuals
we seem to be caught in a weird middleground. We make pragmatic moves upon
the old terrain of the Capitalist/Worker paradigm and thus fail to make a
meaningful alliance with the very intellectuals from the Hacker class whom
we praise.

Two examples:
1) We call for the 'employee' status of Amazon Mechanical Turk workers,
that they might be afforded the same protections by the firm as they were
in the capitalist mode of production. Yet this merely clings to antiquated
notions of the firm & factory! Our real desire is wages & a meaningful
standard of living, but we seem to be accidentally promoting what only 50
years ago we sought to destroy.
2) We call for a taxi strike against Uber in order to protect the
livelihoods & medallion investments of current drivers, but in doing so we
fight against an 'information should be free' model and the hacker class at
large. Uber is a _great_ hack, but its vectoral-monetization is not.
(#NationalizeUber) The Vectorialists definitely won over a fair amount of
journalists during the strikes, though: "TAXI STRIKES = GREAT UBER PR;

I guess I just see a dangerous game being played in digital labor theory...
One wants to make proposals that can immediately benefit those abused by
the new Vectorialist configurations of labor, but all too often that
requires seeking the protections won from (read: granted by) the old
dominant powers. We say to ourselves, "What were the last 100 years of
labor struggle for if we are just going to give up all those gains?" But to
retain them is to submit ourselves once again to that domination..

I think our challenge becomes twofold: How do we cultivate more organic
intellectuals from the digital labor demographic? And, more importantly,
how do we stop them from being co-opted every time Google opens their
wallet? I'm not quite sure.

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