Theory in a Digital Age: A Project of English 483 Students, Coastal Carolina University

Digital Labor in Virtual Reality

A Podcast - The Delve: Sleep Dealer
  Being in a virtual reality is how Memo does work. He is being virtualized in a construction job to assemble a building with robots. Whether it is a positive or negative circumstance that Memo is working there, we don’t know, but what the film shows is that it’s dangerous. Marx’s suggests, “There, the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value relation between the products of labor which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom” (Marx 2). The (product) nodes are turning to a dangerous physical manifestation for the human in contact with the machine. The contacts that Memo has to in his eyes help him see into the job site. What is dangerous about the contacts is it can make anyone blind if there is a glitch in the system, and could possibly electrocute the body when they are hooked up to the nodes leaving the person to die from suffocation.

Thaver says, “It discloses worlds that come into being in referential whole that equipment sets into relief in those instances particularly when something becomes unusable or breaks down within the referential equipment world, so to speak” (Thaver 3). The dangerous part about an equipment breaking down is when it is brought to our awareness. In the film, Memo is attached to the machine with his nodes, when the guy next to him starts to become electrocuted and he falls to the ground seizing. It took Memo a minute to understand what is happening around him due to being in a virtual reality. When he comes around Memo rushes to the guys side, but the head people already reached him, ended up dragging him through another door. We didn’t find out what happened to him afterwards, for all we know, he could have died from this machine. Memo started to realize just how dangerous his job is during this incident. This is where we see the mistreatment of humans. They are dehumanizing them because of the nodes that are attached to the machine and the human. Just because they are attached to a machine doesn’t mean that they are a machine. They are humans who have a mind and a memory. These nodes and machines are making their human life seem small or nonexistent based on the labor they are working on.

    In the film “Sleep Dealer,” Memo receives these nodes to enter the workforce. He is introduced to this company known as the “Sleep Dealer,” which promotes people who connect to nodes and work as machines. Memo suggests in the timeline that he is working in California, which may be right, but he doesn’t even know, nor does the viewer. It’s just an idea to him based on what the work-site looks like. Everyone around him seems to speak Spanish. Karl Marx argues, “The labor of the individual asserts itself as a part of the labor of society, only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between the producers” (Marx 2). What’s unique about this is that Memo is being used as a product both directly and indirectly. They aren’t interacting with the act of exchange in the work of machines, but they are interacting with the nodes that connect them to the machines that do the direct work. It is taking all of the human aspects of work away from the virtual reality that Memo has accomplished. What Marx is arguing in his piece is that the labor force is standardized, and in a way, the human element of these machines are being removed because of the way we value the object for production. Without commodities that societies have built in this world, we wouldn’t have a “fetish” as Marx calls it, we would just have the basic tools to survive.

Marx said that our human brain forms “the groundwork for the quantitative determination of value, namely, the duration of that expenditure, or the quantity of labor, it is quite clear that there is a palpable difference between its quantity and quality” (Marx 1). The labor through machines is faster at producing a commercial building, but it takes more time for mankind to build it, and get the final product. When mankind is standardized into a machine by using a machines form to do the man’s job, we are losing the humanity out of labor altogether. By labor being a social form we provide with the use of technology taking over the world with no emotions. People like Memo are forced to work hard, long hours that could render them useless because they are overworking their own system, the brain, mind, and body. Labor in “Sleep Dealer” becomes a dystopian society and is treated as an allegory. It is a virtual reality that is unfolding the true aspects of work by using human beings to do the hard work.


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