Thursday Friday Saturday — Field Trip — Digital Labor Conference – 11.12,13,14.09

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Thursday Friday Saturday — Field Trip — Digital Labor Conference –
1. Introduction
2. About the Conference
3. Participants
1. Introduction
What: Conference on Digital Labor

When: Thursday, Friday, Saturday November 12,13,14
Where: Eugene Lang College – New School

Who: Free and open to all (but you must register online)
Following up some of the discussions we have had on notions of labor,
work, and relations to life, we would like to announce a conference being
organized at Eugene Lang College on digital labor entitled: The Internet
as Playground and Factory. It connects nicely to events we have had
recently including our discussion on Saturday with Marcel, and some
upcoming events which we will be announcing. The event looks at the
growing trend within web 2.0 and current developments online to further
complicate any traditional divisions between work, labor, play and life.
There has been an extended discussion for several months on the IDC email
list, you can find an archive here:
And as most of you on our list know, we rarely send anything out more than
a week in advance, but even though the event is free, it requires
Please find more information by the organizers below.
2. About the Conference
Today we are arguably in the midst of massive transformations in economy,
labor, and life related to digital media. The purpose of this conference
is to interrogate these dramatic shifts restructuring leisure,
consumption, and production since the mid-century. In the 1950s television
began to establish commonalities between suburbanites across the United
States. Currently, communities that were previously sustained through
national newspapers now started to bond over sitcoms. Increasingly people
are leaving behind televisions sets in favor of communing with — and
through– their computers. They blog, comment, procrastinate, refer,
network, tease, tag, detag, remix, and upload and from all of this
attention and all of their labor, corporations expropriate value. Guests
in the virtual world Second Life even co-create the products and
experiences, which they then consume. What is the nature of this
interactive ‘labor’ and the new forms of digital sociality that it brings
into being? What are we doing to ourselves?
Only a small fraction of the more than one billion Internet users create
and add videos, photos, and mini-blog posts. The rest pay attention. They
leave behind innumerable traces that speak to their interests,
affiliations, likes and dislikes, and desires. Large corporations then
profit from this interaction by collecting and selling this data. Social
participation is the oil of the digital economy. Today, communication is a
mode of social production facilitated by new capitalist imperatives and it
has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between play, consumption
and production, life and work, labor and non-labor.
The revenues of today’s social aggregators are promising but their
speculative value exceeds billions of dollars. Capital manages to
expropriate value from the commons; labor goes beyond the factory, all of
society is put to work. Every aspect of life drives the digital economy:
sexual desire, boredom, friendship — and all becomes fodder for
speculative profit. We are living in a total labor society and the way in
which we are commoditized, racialized, and engendered is profoundly and
disturbingly normalized. The complex and troubling set of circumstances
we now confront includes the collapse of the conventional opposition
between waged and unwaged labor, and is characterized by multiple
“tradeoffs” and “social costs”—such as government and corporate
surveillance. While individual instances are certainly exploitative in the
most overt sense, the shift in the overall paradigm moves us beyond the
explanatory power of the Marxian interpretation of exploitation (which is
of limited use here).
Free Software and similar practices have provided important alternatives
to and critiques of traditional modes of intellectual property to date but
user agency is not just a question of content ownership. Users should
demand data portability, the right to pack up and leave the walled gardens
of institutionalized labor à la Facebook or StudiVZ. We should ask which
rights users have beyond their roles as consumers and citizens. Activists
in Egypt have poached Facebook’s platform to get their political message
out and to organize protests. Google’s Image Labeler transforms people’s
endless desire for entertainment into work for the company. How much
should Google pay them to tag an image? Such payment could easily become
more of an insult than a remuneration.
This conference confronts the urgent need to interrogate what constitutes
labor and value in the digital economy and it seeks to inspire proposals
for action. Currently, there are few adequate definitions of labor that
fit the complex, hybrid realities of the digital economy. The Internet as
Playground and Factory poses a series of questions about the conundrums
surrounding labor (and often the labor of love) in relation to our digital
– Is it possible to acknowledge the moments of ruthless exploitation while
not eradicating optimism, inspiration, and the many instances of
individual financial and political empowerment?
– What is labor and where is value produced?
– Are strategies of refusal an effective response to the expropriation of
value from interacting users?
– How is the global crisis of capitalism linked to the speculative
performances of the digital economy?
– What can we learn from the “cyber sweatshops” class-action lawsuit
against AOL under the Fair Labor Standards Act in the early 1990s?
– How does this invisible interaction labor affect our bodies? What were
key steps in the history of interaction design that managed to mobilize
and structure the social participation of bodies and psyches in order to
capture value?
– Most interaction labor, regardless whether it is driven by monetary
motivations or not, is taking place on corporate platforms. Where does
that leave hopeful projections of a future of non-market peer production?
– Trebor Scholz
3. Participants
For three days, 90 theorists, artists, legal scholars, activists, students, programmers, historians, and social media experts including Mark Andrejevic, Burak Arikan, ABarr, Michel Bauwens, Ted Byfield, Jonathan Beller, Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Paolo Carpignano, Sumita Chakravarty, Heather Chaplin, Mark Coté, Brittany Anne Chozinski, Patricia Ticineto Clough, Gabriella Coleman, Geoff Cox, Amanda McDonald Crowley, Sean Cubitt, Jodi Dean, Jesse Drew, Catherine Driscoll, Kate Eichhorn, Niva Elkin-Koren, Lauren Ellsworth, Ursula Endlicher, Laura Forlano, Christian Fuchs, Francesco Gagliardi, Alexander Galloway, Michael Goldhaber, David Golumbia, Ellen Goodman, Melissa Gregg, James Grimmelman, Alex Halavais, Orit Halpern, Paul Hartzog, Joseph Heathcott, Brian Holmes, Lilly Irani, Carolyn Lee Kane, Pat Kane, M. Christopher Kelty, Scott Kildall and Victoria Scott, Abigail Kosnik, Julian Kücklich, Ferentz Lafargue, Mark Larrimore, Deborah Levitt, Laura Liu, Thomas Malaby, Edward Maloney, Meredith L. McGill, Christina McPhee, Ulises Mejias, Robert Mitchell, Nick Montfort, Lisa Nakamura, Gina Neff, Luis Vincent Nunez, Timothy Pachirat, Frank Pasquale, Christiane Paul, Ben Peters, Dominic Pettman, Hector Postigo, Howard Rheingold, Alex Rivera, Martin Roberts, Judith Rodenbeck, Kenneth Rogers, Ned Rossiter, Stephanie Rothenberg, Douglas Rushkoff, Ivan Sigal, Brooke Singer, Hendrick Speck, Elizabeth Stark, Fred Turner, McKenzie Wark, Darren Wershler, Jonathan L. Zittrain will address issues of digital labor from various disciplinary standpoints.