Speculations on Digital Art and Viral Spaces
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Dale Hudson is an assistant professor at Texas State University–San Marcos and co-curator with Sharon Lin Tay of Map Open Space exhibit at FLEFF 2010.
Try to remember a time when it wasn’t possible to book your own flights or make your own hotel reservation online, when it wasn’t possible to pay your credit-card bills and your manage bank account with a few key stokes? It’s like trying to remember life before mobile phones. How did people manage? Or, phrased differently, who performed labor before everything became self-service?
It seems that almost any service can be rendered online. Do it yourself — no bother of scheduling one’s time around someone else’s office hours, no bother of taking the subway to some remote part of town or a train out to the suburbs. Just open a web browser, upload personal data, and click a mouse. DIY service is now a marker of convenience.
This convenience, of course, is another form of outsourcing. As consumers, we work for transnational corporations. Sometimes we’re paid in discounted prices or special offers; other times, we’re not. When we play online, we’re often also working. At the very least, we’re performing the labor of data input. Tap the keys for ‘hot or not’, ‘like’, ‘become a fan’, ‘following’, ‘followed’—it’s all information in a larger database, whether for marketing or for surveillance.
So how do we begin to talk about work and leisure, labor and play, mediated through information technologies and across distributed networks?
For anyone in New York, check out The Internet as Playground and Factory, which begins today at the Eugene Lang College of the New School. Organized by Trebor Scholz, the conference proposes to interrogate ‘dramatic shifts restructuring leisure, consumption, and production since the mid-century’. The conference explores all aspects of the increasingly complex nexus of digitized labor, consumerism, and sociality in forms as diverse as paid bloggers, gold farming, and image-tagging games.
‘Every aspect of life drives the digital economy: sexual desire, boredom, friendship — and all becomes fodder for speculative profit,’ writes Scholz in his introduction to the conference; ‘social participation is the oil of the digital economy.’
From our social relations to our personal identity, we digitize our labor and identities—unwittingly, obediently, at times defiantly. We interface almost seamlessly with a matrix of databases, where our digital selves can be tagged and sorted, ranked and rated, traded but seldom deleted, according to algorithms that most of us can’t begin to hack. We upload our boredom, bookmark our sexual desires, and register our addictions; and somewhere on the planet a corporation downloads our boredom in yen, distributes our desires in euros, or copyrights our additions in dollars.
This conference asks us to consider ways that we might have grown increasingly acculturated to performing digital labor even in our recreation. The conference also asks us to consider ways that art and activism can reroute the locked-down technologies of transnational corporations and distribute digital labor according to more ethical terms, such as swarming or crowdsourcing.
For anyone not able to be in New York this week, check out the video interviews on vimeo, linked to the conference home page. Hear what established and emerging thinkers — Jonathan Brucker-Cohen, Brittany Chozinski, Patricia Clough, Ursula Endlicher, Alexander Galloway, Orit Halpern, Dominic Pettmann, Hector Postigo, Andrew Ross, Stephanie Rothenberg, Saskia Sassan, Tiziana Terranova, and Ken Wark — have to say about the outsourcing of labor as play, as well as democratic and autocratic potentials for networked media environments and new media ecologies. Captured by Assai Ghawami’s handheld digital camera, you’ll also get to see their expressions and gestures as they speak, as well as the backs of some of their heads and the bathroom sinks where they wash their hands! Who said that the academic work can’t be playful?
What do you have to say about your participation in these digital spaces?