Mirrors, tails, and labor: responses

Beyond the Mirror World

Philip Agre’s “Beyond the Mirror World” largely deals with the question of representing the real world with quantitative data. He gives examples of data use that seem to demonstrate the Capture Model he proposed in “Surveillance and Capture, Two Models of Privacy” and examines Gelernter’s idea that “the progress of computing will inevitably produce a single vast distributed computer system that contains a complete mirror image of the whole of reality.” He also addresses issues of privacy, and complications related to de-identifying data.

Perfect representation is impossible: we can at most measure proxies of things and activities, which reminded me of Borges’ “On Exactitude in Science“, which has to do with the development of a map so exact it becomes a perfect replica and is thus useless. Abstract representations are useful because they allow us to learn and express truths more broadly. Otherwise, what’s the point? We might as well just look around. It’s too hard to synthesize or extrapolate this way. The alternative is to examine the mirror-world in some software mediated way. Some data are hard to perceive in our physical reality: sound (because of its temporal property), radio waves, psychometric measures, etc. How Borges’ imagines perceiving infinity feels relevant in this way, too.

 

The Long Tail

It was delightfully nostalgic to read Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, which examines the effect and potential of web-mediated media consumption in 2004. The sudden ease by which we could consume media in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s was exciting and overwhelming (I remember collecting a massive archive of music that I lost when my computer crashed–my music identity never recovered and by then no one owned music anymore–physical things are important). The big change was upending the 20-80 rule, since the internet allowed a market around more obscure media to be profitable.

While the options for consumers and the profits for visionary companies that developed algorithms to help people find niche content are elaborated upon, very little is said regarding the effect on the artists, the many companies cited as examples of old-school mainstream media providers, and whether we’re okay with new media companies collecting our personal data to market to us better. I feel a certain amount of resentment for the large media conglomerates that serve(d) as gatekeepers: I saw Triplets of Belleville and theaters and it’s one of 3 DVD’s I own. Hollywood still exists and smaller artists with distributed followings still struggle. Are algorithmic suggestions for similar content making us more isolated? And is the convenience worth the privacy trade-off?

 

Free Labor: Producing culture for the digital economy

Tiziana Terranova’s essay critiques the state of post-capitalist labor markets as they’ve developed specifically alongside the internet, arguing that the internet is reliant on free labor. It’s unclear to me whether it’s more true that, “the fruit of collective cultural labor [is] not simply appropriated, but voluntarily channeled and controversially structured within capitalist business practices” than it has been in the past. It seems that culture has always been produced on the fringes and slowly incorporated into the mainstream–if someone with investment capital pays attention then it becomes a commodity.

I think there’s also some validity to the argument that internet/culture/content work is devalued because of theĀ “minoritarian, gendered, and raced character of the Internet population.”

“How many women have produced a fuckton of tech content for medium that hasn’t been compensated?” – @shanley, 2014

Nurses and teachers don’t see their wages increase in response to increased demand because of the demographics that dominate these fields (and when white/men do enter these fields they earn much more, but duh they always do). But with regards to knowledge work, a key distinguishing factor is its collaborative nature:

“The acknowledgment of the collective aspect of labor implies a rejection of the equivalence between labor and employment.”

I’d argue that employment has also been divorced from wages, and even more strongly dissociated from wealth: more/better labor, more “productive,” societally essential jobs, do not lead to more/better wages. And just because you’re employed doesn’t mean you’re a good person. Acknowledgement of these realities is part of why we see increased discussion around universal basic income.

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