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Rise of Digital Labor
Christian Fuchs sites that of the world’s 2,000 largest transnational corporations 11.6% fell under the umbrella of communications and digital media. Tech companies like Google, Amazon, etc. are shaping the economy is exciting ways. Information capitalism is one facet of contemporary capitalism “reflect[ing] the growing importance of science, communication, knowledge, computing, the Internet, and information labor in production”.
Social media has infiltrated millions of lives in various capacities. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, to name a few, have connected people across the globe from all demographics. But one unintended outcome of these platforms has been the digital labor performed by its users. The top social media use targeted advertising-based capital accumulation models. Political economist Dallas Smythe uses the term “audience labor” to talk about commercial broadcasting on television, stating that the “audience’s labor produces attention as an audience commodity, which is sold to advertising clients”. Fuchs furthers this idea explaining “users’ digital labor, … creates data and meta-data that is sold as commodity to the platforms’ ad clients". This digital labor is masked to users and is only considered labor by those examining it from the outside. This is what Mason refers to as the blurring between work and free time. Work is being done on these platforms that is changing the terms we use to think about labor and yet it is masked as a leisurely activity.
The political economy of online advertising has commodified users’ behaviors and interactions online which in turn “affects the convergence of users’ various social roles”. The ideas surrounding labor and wealth are changing, so to must our ideas of social roles.
Marx’s understanding of productive labor in “Fragment” is such that productive labor produces capital that does not necessarily require a wage-labor relationship. In other words, there is not a direct relation between labor and the product it creates. Fuchs gives this example, “Facebook’s and Google’s wageworkers do not create a commodity, but rather a platform that users access as a ‘free lunch’, whereas users’ activities create a data commodity that is sold in order to generate profit”. Information technology is affecting change in terms of labor and production.
“Fragment” anticipates the importance of knowledge, science, and technology in production and labor. As these become integral to production, a sort of knowledge labor dominates: “machinery develops with the accumulation of society’s science, of productive force generally”. In this way, Marx has predicted the highly technological economy in which we find ourselves.
The idea of the General Intellect in “Fragment” translates easily into our economy where information is abundant. Fuchs connects “digital labor on social media [as] a manifestation [of] the general intellect that expresses the existences of a social factory in contemporary capitalism”. Other theorists connect the general intellect to immaterial labor. Lazzarato defines this kind of labor as “labor that produces the informational and cultural content of the commodity”. Social media users’ knowledge of navigating digital spaces belongs to the general intellect which then is used in this immaterial labor. “General intellect is a collective, social intelligence created by accumulated knowledges, techniques, and know-how. The value of labor is thus realized by a new universal and concrete labor force through the appropriation and free usage of the new productive forces”.
Mason mentions that information has sparked a rise in collaborative production. In other words, the general intellect of today’s society allows for convergences in production. Fuchs explains immaterial labor as “networked and cooperative organization [with] knowledge’s peculiar characteristics that support convergences, exploitation, value generation, and productive labor are not limited to wage-labor”. That is to say it is immaterial in terms of physical production, but it innately allows for exploitation in terms of wages.
This immaterial labor is exploited, particularly by advertising-financed broadcast media and corporate social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. These laborers are “nonpaid audiences and digital workers who create attention and data that is sold as commodity” which in turn generates value and profit for these companies. Fuchs creates this interesting image further complicating immaterial labor: “Facebook and its likes are social factories, in which social workers perform unremunerated information labor”. This idea of social factories calls us to understand labor and production in terms of its effects socially. What does this mean for the development of societal roles? In a society defined by wealth, and where wealth is determined by labor, what happens when these two constructs are revolutionized in the digital age?