Digital Labor: New Opportunities, Old Inequalities
While it doesn’t smell or look like labor at all; digital labor is part of the working lives of millions in the U.S., China, Russia, and India. Amazon Mechanical Turk is a thriving marketplace where “folks who have work meet up with folks who seek work,” as CEO Jeff Bezos innocently framed it. Work, as it turns out, is in fact radically atomized and inane zombie labor. Mechanical Turk does not reveal the identity of the employer to the worker and even if workers click away for 60 hours a week, they may have no idea what they’re working on. The vast majority of this mind-numbing click work is exploitative simply because it isn’t humanely possible to make minimum wage. And if being underpaid is not good enough for you, then think of the alienation and separation from other workers. In the legal gray-zone of the web with its extreme asymmetry of enforceable rights- heavily tilted towards the owners, paid crowdsourced workers are independent contractors, no matter what. The “wretched of the screen” are more fungible than ever; they are legally unshielded, de-skilled, underpaid or not paid at all. AMT is not an isolated, extreme example. Just take competitive outsourcing platforms like 99designs , which are based on the time–wasting logic of architecture competitions, leaving many of the designers who fully executed a job without pay.