DQ: Our Free Labor

Ross’ chapter is an excerpt from this book

Ross’ chapter, “In Search of the Lost Paycheck” describes shifting ideals regarding labor, and while these changes are not new, new media helps facilitate these changes. These could include the regular economic forces of pressuring workers to produce more at the same price (be more productive), but also the opportunities for new types of “free” labor. Some examples that Ross provides include data mining off of social network sites where people spend “social capital,” the increase of unpaid internships, and the perceived freedom and flexibility of mobile working.  Ross argues that it is the employers and companies, not the users or employees who benefit, by having user data to sell as a product, free interns to do work that used to be done by a paid worker, or be able to have employees work 24/7. In regards to the internet, Ross says

The real spoils, in other words, do not go to the aspiring stars, ranked and rated by the battery of metrics that measure Internet sentiment and opinion, but to behind-the-scenes content hosts and data miners, who utilize these and other metrics to guarantee their profits. (page 19)

This brought up an interesting viewpoint for me. Does our perception of how we use of social media, Google, or other new media change when we realize that these companies are profiting off information that we are giving up freely? Or do we value their services enough to provide our information “labor” free of charge (in exchange for social capital, or other services)?  And to what extent are we aware of these profits, and business models, and what power do we have to change them? Are we willing participants or cogs in a machine we don’t know even exists? Do we even have the choice of whether or not we want to provide the “labor” to these new media companies?

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