Thursday, July 22, 2010

Web 2.0 and immaterial labor dispossession

From Pirates of Silicon Valley: State of exception and dispossession in Web 2.0 by Peter Jakobsson and Fredrik Stiernstedt:

Another look at how Web 2.0 is about expropriating creative labor of consumer-participants in the information economy. Good point here about the dialectic of freedom and exploitation:
Long–standing folk traditions of appropriation, remixing, and playful interpretations of texts with a sound disrespect for the figure of the author, are awarded an infrastructure and a public platform in Web 2.0. We are free to work as cultural entrepreneurs, writing texts on blogs, producing videos for online services, etc., with relatively cheap means of production and distribution, and with some chances of receiving part of the money that flows in the Web 2.0 networks. Furthermore, we are witnessing a renegotiation of traditional copyright, which opens a space for these popular practices, and entrepreneurial spirits.

The dialectics of Web 2.0 means, however, that in the informational economy our participation plays an essential role in the accumulation of capital. For that reason participation goes from being restricted and privileged to becoming mandatory. Increasingly, in the informational economy, to gain access to the networks of culture, knowledge and information, some kind of production — active, conscious and participatory (e.g., uploading videos to YouTube), or passive, automatic and even unconscious or involuntary (e.g., in the case of language processing and social profiling) — becomes obligatory. This is fundamental to how dispossession works in the Web 2.0 economy. The enclosure in the informational economy, in contrast to the first enclosure movement, becomes more metaphorical since the preconditions for dispossession in Web 2.0 are not based on locks or barriers that restrict access. Somewhat paradoxically, the essence of the informational enclosure is openness. Although the enclosure is not without its restrictions, it strives for informational and communicative excess through promoting freedom and openness, and enhancing certain types of communication.

Web 2.0 seems to open a new space for communication and sharing, but it is at the same time a new mode of discipline, of mandatory production to garner social recognition or qualify for even basic social participation. The paradox the writers refer to is one of Foucault's main observations about the "biopolitical". Foucault discarded the "repression hypothesis" and argued more or less that power recruited modes of pleasure to entice subjects to serve its ends. This shows up as the compulsion to make an identity and to keep working on it as though one's very soul is at stake in the production -- that is, to always be sharing the fruits of one's self-consciousness while never garnering any relief from it.

Web 2.0 is part of the redefinition of friendship as something that can be construed as production -- it means friendship must be carried out along the lines of self-branding, of churning out nuggets of alienable and tradeable information and opinions. Our social life must now create a data trail that can be mined in order to be accepted as truly social, within the context of our times. Another way of putting that is that more and more of what was once "private" or "intimate" experience must now be mediated to be experienced as such. It needs to circulate as a reified nugget of information in order to be validated as the kind of experience we plan to archive it as. And of course, the whole idea of archiving experience is a new ramification of the experience is mediatized. That is one of the reasons we consent to it -- we like the idea of having a tangible collection of memories rather than relying on our feeble brains. As this NYT piece points out, the web means the end of forgetting.

With the public archive of private memories, individuals constantly are confronted with the loss of control over how they wish to be remembered or seen, even as they work harder than ever on self-presentation. The harder they work on identity, the more it seems out of control, because the work involved is a matter of making the self permeable and public. The authors approach YouTube in this way -- it's a hegemonic medium that presumes universal publicity: we are "free" to be recognized socially, but that means we are at the same time free to be exposed.

The democratic potential of YouTube needs to be considered in relation to the site’s dispossession of the control of the audiovisual means of constructing narratives of our own lives, as well as in relation to the lack of control over products of the orchestrated imagination of cultural industries and amateur video producers.

Similarly, Facebook and other social networks are "profiling machines" that translate us into our relevant demographic information almost in real time as it changes, even as we are compelled by network effects to be social through its medium. Facebook, more important, permits for the monetization of the social: "companies and brands are paying Facebook for the possibility to exploit what is the main feature of the site: that it is a venue for sociability and social trust." Facebook grants access to consumers in a moment of vulnerability and openness that is compelled by the participation of a network of friends as a whole. Friends bring us into Facebook's world and establish a sphere of apparent trust and control; then brands worm in, as if they too are entities that can be trusted and can have relationships. And at the same time, people become more like brands in the same space, with reputational capital distributed in a network rather than plain reciprocity with friends in the real time-space of presence.
What is dispossessed in social networking sites is then not only personal information and intellectual property rights but also sociability as such. This is not to be confused with the privatization of the infrastructures of social or interpersonal communication, which is a much more commonplace phenomenon (i.e., telephone, mail). In social networking sites, what is taking place is an inclusion into capitalist relations of the very quality of social relations as such — the sense of community and social trust. Plus — not to forget — also the means of staging, upholding and making community and sociability through the dispossession and instrumentalizing that is inherent in “networks” and “news–feeds”.
The last sentence is key -- social networks "enclose the commons" in the sense that they make sociality outside of their auspices difficult. Your friends want you on Facebook, and you tend to disappear if you are not there, because you now present an additional burden to them, requiring contact outside the automated procedures of the social-network interface. We must migrate onto the platform, in the name of universal convenience, which usurps intimacy as the governing value of friendship.

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