[iDC] #DL14

List of the Institute for Distributed Creativity idc at mailman.thing.net
Sun Sep 21 17:01:20 UTC 2014

Thanks, Trebor.  This is a great introduction, and raises a few questions
for me about the nature and scope of the digital labor community.

A lot of big tech companies are seeing increasing tensions *within* their
ranks. Google bus protesters have highlighted one class divide
in Silicon Valley: between long-time residents and new tech workers. But
there are even fissures <http://www.fissuredworkplace.net/> in the
workplace at megafirms. Consider:

a) 9 out of 10 Googlers who make political contributions donate to
Democrats, but the company funds many rightwing groups
I have heard its lobbying team is dominated by Republicans.

b) One developer wrote a heartfelt “Letter to Mark Zuckerberg
complaining that he felt trapped by a meeting with Facebook’s acquisition
team: he could either sell his app to the company, or risk being cut off
from customers after Facebook developed its own version. How many startups
have the big firms swallowed up? Do workers stay at the tech goliaths
because they know they'd never have a chance if they struck out on their

c) Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, is accused of suppressing workers’ wages
by forming a cartel with Apple, Adobe, and other firms. The firms tried to
settle the case months ago, but US District Judge Lucy Koh rejected their
terms, citing “evidence of an overarching conspiracy
Who’s to say the next “joint venture” of tech firms won’t include secret
algorithms that highlight their own properties for users, while hiding new
entrepreneurs? Who’s to say such a venture doesn’t exist already?
 d) Celebrity CEOs want immigration reform that could massively reduce
labor costs. Approve a million H1B visas, and wages may slide for Bay Area
programmers as fast as they have for makers of tradeable goods. Or maybe
they'll just take the seasteading
<http://works.bepress.com/james_grimmelmann/36/> route with Blueseed

I look forward to conversations at the conference about the "most
exploited" workers, ranging from sharing economy "taskrabbits" to MTurkers
working at a penny per "human intelligence task"
<http://cyber.jotwell.com/banana-republic-com/>.  But I also hope it raises
consciousness among those who now have six-figure incomes at big tech
firms: their CEOs would love nothing more than to see them replaced by
robots, or, failing that, by people they could pay ten times less



On Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 4:31 PM, Trebor Scholz <scholzt at newschool.edu>

> Despite the steady influx of introductions, let me make a short insertion
> here. We really appreciate your contributions and look forward to more.
> Keep it coming and also start to respond to other people's introductions,
> don't just post your own.
> For newcomers, this is the eighth in a stream of large conferences that
> have been discussed on this mailing list. #DL14 will be the third event
> that I convened at The New School as part of the series The Politics of
> Digital Culture. The upcoming conference stands on the shoulders of The
> Internet as Playground and Factory conference that took place in 2009 (
> http://digitallabor.org/2009, http://goo.gl/E4hg5I). By now, you all know
> that the event will take place November 14 - 16 at The New School in NYC,
> and you follow our Twitter accounts for updates (@trebors, @idctweets).
> With that out of the way, let's start.
> My vision for #DL14 can be located somewhere between the first sequence of
> Chris Marker's "A Grin Without A Cat" and Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air."
> Or, perhaps the other way around. It's about 21st-century labor: the shift
> away from employment toward contingent work through Uber, TaskRabbit,
> 99Designs, and Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk. How large is this workforce
> and which emerging forms of solidarity can we envision? #DL14 questions the
> ability of traditional unions to protect the ever-larger contingent
> workforce. And it is about our imagination of novel associations and forms
> of mutual aid.
> #DL14 is also about the crooked language that is used to describe emerging
> forms of work through the lens of flexibility, sharing, self-reliance, and
> autonomy. And it centers on workers who get together in any way possible,
> who form their own cooperatives, and who learn from the encouraging
> developments in the fast food industry, at Walmart, Occupy, and the
> domestic labor, and taxi associations. The ultimate goal of #DL14 is to
> shape new concepts and theories as they relate to, for example, guaranteed
> basic income, wage theft, and shorter work hours. We also hope to look
> through the vast landscape of digital labor and identify work practices
> that are worth supporting.
> #DL14 is not solely about radical critique; it is also, simultaneously,
> about alternatives. In that vein, we hope to establish an advocacy group
> for the poorest and most exploited workers in the digital economy. Why did
> Tim Berners-Lee Magna Carta for the web ignore the fact that millions of
> people wake up every day to "go to work" online? Why has the Electronic
> Frontier Foundation still not taken up digital work?
> This isn't merely an academic event because this discourse has not only
> been shaped in universities. Philosophers, artists, sociologists,
> designers, toolmakers, activists, MTurk workers, journalists, legal
> scholars, and labor historians … all co-shaped the ongoing debate about
> digital work.
> If you are not sure what the hell artists have to do with all this, go
> back to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Alex Rivera's Sleep Dealer (
> http://www.sleepdealer.com), Harun Farocki's Workers Leaving the Factory (
> http://vimeo.com/59338090), or Aaron Koblin's 10,000 Sheep (
> http://www.aaronkoblin.com/work/thesheepmarket/).
> This is a conversation that also calls for legal scholars to reconsider
> the definition of employment and the much-debated difference between an
> employee and an independent contractor. A difference, I might add, that is
> deeply consequential as independent contractors are stripped of their
> rights as workers.
> #DL14 will give a voice to startups that decided to put in place fair
> labor conditions. We will, for example, hear from one crowdsourcing upstart
> that decided to implement a minimum wage floor for their contractors.  At
> #DL14, you will not only hear from workers at UPS and fast food
> restaurants, you will not only meet farmworkers, taxi drivers, and
> Mechanical Turk workers; #DL14 will also bring these workers together with
> computer engineers and other technologists to think through possibilities
> for worker organization.
> #DL14 is set against the background of a blistering social vision of
> economic inequality. 4 in 10 working Americans earned less than $20,000 in
> 2012. Almost half of all Americans are economically insecure today; they
> cannot afford basic needs like housing, childcare, food, healthcare,
> utilities, and other essentials. The restructuring of the economy away from
> employment to contingent work, insidiously circumvents worker rights, in a
> way that is arguably more damaging than what Reagan and Thatcher did it to
> miners and flight traffic controllers in the 1980s. This restructuring
> creates facts on the ground that are an affront to over one hundred years
> of labor struggles for the 8 hour workday, employer-covered health
> insurance, minimum wage, the abolition of child labor, workplace
> harassment, and other protections that had been established through the New
> Deal to foster social harmony and keep class warfare at bay.
> What you can see here is a slight shift from the focus of the exchange
> that we had five years ago. Since then, there has been a proliferation of
> publications, artworks, conferences, tools, and workgroups, syllabi, and
> exhibitions that have taken on the issue of digital labor explicitly. There
> was concern for the question if digital labor is in fact distinct from
> traditional forms of labor. For Paolo Virno, Maurizio Lazzarato, Tiziana
> Terranova, and Antonio Negri (and well, Marx) "to live is to labor." Life
> itself is put to work; we are all becoming the standing leave of his or her
> for capital. The publication of the IPF book came out of that
> understanding, informed by Italian Operaismo, leading up to an intense
> fascination with the Facebook exploitation thesis. In retrospect, the idea
> that we are exploited on Facebook – that what we are doing there is labor
> in the sense of value creation – is not as urgent in terms of its content
> but it is still essential as provocation. It is a provocation that leads to
> an investigation of the digital labor surveillance complex and the
> instruments of value capture on the Post-Snowden web. The prolific
> Christian Fuchs has edited a collection of essays focusing in the
> definition of digital labor (http://goo.gl/BjaAF6). Mark Andrejevic and
> Fuchs, in particular, have taken up the question of exploitation in the
> context of predictive analytics and data labor. Adam Arvidsson, also in his
> latest book The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis, offers
> counterpoints, claiming that value generation on social networking services
> is more truthiness than fact. Ethan Zuckerman's recent rejection of online
> advertisement (http://goo.gl/4Kfx5H), published in The Atlantic, is part
> of this larger, very necessary debate about the staggering social costs of
> allegedly free social networking services.
> The debate around playbor and value capture took center stage for much of
> the past five years and it will also continue at #DL14.
> In the end surely, #DL14 will be out about many things, and you decide
> what you take away from it. So, if you haven't done so already, take out
> your pencil or boot up your calendar: join us at The New School in a few
> weeks, also to experiment with event formats a little bit.
> Forward!
> Trebor Scholz
> Associate Professor
> Culture & Media
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