You Scratch My Back, I Commoditize Your Shit
October 17, 2011 § 1 Comment
Tiziana Terranova, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy” (2000)
Free digital labor = the modern sweatshop! aka NetSlaves! aka all knowledge work and no pay give Joe McSysop a bad case of the b&hammars! Because OOPS there’s no such thing as free labor. People online may be working “for free” (i.e. without remuneration) but the Fat Cats in Washington (Cheezburger?) end up profiting, and thereby comoditizing, that which is presumed to be given freely but is actually worth vast swaths of gold, just not to the person doing the work. See above; it’s what happens when the outernet plugs itself into the social factory of digital economic production thus ushering in an alternative (though not wholly new; this process long predates the invention of Al Gore’s Internet) logic of value. Keywords, everybody!
John Banks and Mark Deuze, “Co-Creative Labor” (2009)
Goddamn, these days all companies do is crowdsource ideas! And rely on user generated content to increase brand visibility! You know, viral content! Catch the fever, etc. The question is, what kind of relationship is this? And what kind of labor is co-creative labor? I mean it’s kind of shitty for the people who actually get paid to create content, and kind of shitty for people who add value to a given brand but aren’t compensated or even acknowledged. Then again people continue to contribute, because they want to, and jeez do we really want to say that this is solely exploitative? The exam gods shrug and point to the above selection, which per my uncanny ability to randomly pick embedded articles, cites Terranova throughout!
I am reminded here of everybody’s favorite e-ntrepreneur (YOU FUCKING SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Ben Huh and his wee liddle website called Most of the Internet. Indeed there was a rumble in the ROFL when he and moot revisited their actually sort of amazing throwdown from ROFLcon II, wherein the latter accused the former of helming an oil tower — basically taking more than he gave back. Huh resisted, said Cheezburger gave people tools to make things they liked, and a forum to share those things. moot wasn’t impressed, was like yeah you give them tools to make stuff, and a place to put it, but then you slap a shitload of ads onto everywhere, monetize said content and pocket the profits. How is that giving back?
The wild boyz picked up pretty much right where they left off, with Ben coming in especially hot. He argued that, sure, Cheezburger embraces let’s say twice-behaved behaviors (there was a particularly amusing exchange over an Official Cheezburger Bronies forum, which apparently exists), but…who’s to say who owns what to begin with? At which point the conversation took a metaphorical turn: so you’ve got this apple tree, right? A big fucking apple tree, with branches that hang over your neighbor’s yard. Your neighbor’s like, thanks for the produce stupid! And you’re like…but it’s my tree. Ben’s basic point was that we should set aside petty concerns, for example “whose tree it is,” and focus on the positive. Because apples are good! And the more apples we have, then better off we all are! -then promptly tossed his pilfered fruit into a gold-embriodered velvet sack, which he had delivered to Whole Foods at 500% markup. LOL JK HE DIDN’T SELL ANY APPLES. For one thing it was a metaphor.
But seriously folks, I actually really like this metaphor (and I actually really like Ben); throw in a couple extra hundred conflicting property lines and it would be perfect. For one thing the Giving Tree that is INTERNET beautifully illustrates the relationship between internet culture (its output represented by so many delicious apples) and those who stand to profit from its output (Cheezburger, ad agencies, various content producers), and helps explain the kinds of scuffles that inevitably arise when you have multiple interests tapping into one centralized resource. It also gestures towards something that neither moot nor Ben addressed explicitly — namely the ecological underpinnings of the tree itself (GET IT because TREE). I’m inclined to raise a good-natured eyebrow at Ben’s insistence that his making money off other people’s content benefits everyone. But I do believe that fallen apples nourish the soil, and that MY square of soil can only benefit from the health of YOUR square of soil, and vice versa. This is the idea behind collaborative work generally — I might think you’re an asshole, and I might disagree with your basic assumptions, but if you do well then I do well. So I want you to do well, not just because I want to do well, but because I’m invested in the project. Which, now that I think about it, gets back to what I was saying yesterday about the Goatse-sliver island ecology…