Monday, December 02, 2013

Student Feedback

Below is a paragraph that was written after a pleasant discussion with students about one of my current works in progress. Having a venue to discuss faculty writing with students is new for me. I like it. I rarely want to subject my own classes to such a thing. The content is unlikely to fit well into the class. But this class revolves around discussions of academic research more generally and student engagement with issues involved in doing interdisciplinary work. It seems to be working. The students seem to like the glimpse of their professors at work, and I like the opportunity for student feedback on my writing.

Another corollary to the reliance on unpaid digital labor is a loss of waged jobs. As more and more amateur and user-generated content is produced, less and less waged work may become available. This trend may be offset somewhat by the overall expansion in the size of the audience and in the demand for digital content, but as a total share of the labor involved, waged labor will become an ever dwindling part or the total labor expended on digital production. Coupled with this contraction of waged digital labor, there is another type of pressure created by the capitalist integument of digital work. Like other jobs under capitalism, there is always a tendency to de-skill the labor force. This serves to make more labor-power available for exploitation, to increase competition among workers, and to lower wages. While the creation and dissemination of digital content used to require relatively high technical skills and some knowledge of computers and programming, now it is often reduced to a point and click skill. This de-skilling of the digital labor force is, of course, a prerequisite for the widespread use of unwaged digital labor. Tasks such as streaming digital video online, which used to require significant technical skills, now require about the same amount of skill as sending an email. This process is most often seen in the light of a broadening of access and a democratization of the process of producing digital content. And so it is. However, this was never really the goal for capital. Freeing digital labor from the shackles of specialized knowledge is less important to capital than the attendant benefits of expanding the available labor supply in such a way that waged digital jobs vanish into a vast ocean of unwaged, user-generated content. That digital work begins to look more like a kind of addictive behavior and less like an economically valuable activity of its own is of little consequence.

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