Pit Schultz on Fri, 27 Jun 1997 08:20:07 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Jobs in Cyberspace 2/2

If Silicon Alley does give birth to a new kind of culture industry, it is 
not likely to be a mass media industry, nor will its impact necessarily lie 
in the realm of leisure or entertainment (business-to-business communication 
is the more obviously profitable sector).  Unlike the culture industries of 
radio, film, TV, recording, fashion and advertising, which had their start 
in the Age of the Machine, the work environment of New Media is entirely 
machine-based, and labor-intensive in ways that are now the legends of 
cyberspace.  "Voluntary" overtime--with 12 hours workdays virtually  
mandatory--is a way of life for those in the business of digital design, 
programming and manipulation.  The fact is, New Media technologies have 
already transformed our work patterns much more radically than they are 
likely to affect our leisure hours, just as information technologies have 
already played a massive role in helping to restructure labor and income in 
the new global economy--effectively reorganizing time, space, and work for 
mostly everyone in the developed world.  It would be more accurate to say 
that we are seeing the dawn of new forms of leisure time governed by 
labor-intensive habits tied to information technology.   But let's not 
forget that for every one of us who wants our PCs and software to go faster, 
there are fifty others who want them to go slower.  And, in the U.S., the 
hours of work put in by fully employed workers, whichever side of the labor 
divide they inhabit, has increased steadily for three decades. 
 The difference in these attitudes to computing speed speaks volumes about 
how New Media straddle the division of labor, and should remind us why it is 
necessary to make links between work cultures that are ordinarily kept 
apart.  Silicon Alley has been showcased as an urban enclave for whizzkids, 
a chunk of some future utopia of cooperative work in the virtual city, and 
in this respect, its work culture is philosophically akin to the creative, 
hard technology sectors of Northern California and Boston's Route 128 
corridor.   But to focus only on the creative sector of its contingent work 
force is to encourage the assumption that it is wholly disconnected from 
industrial sites of very cheap labor--electronic chip production and circuit 
assembly in Asia and the Caribbean, and the armies of word processing and 
data entry clerks in Ireland and India.  So too,  the general belief that 
these       "symbolic analysts" constitute the fastest growing, and most 
lucrative middle class sector of employment is belied by the fact, as Doug 
Henwood points out, that "jobs with high information account for [only] 15 
per cent of total job growth over the next decade," while the real growth 
areas are all in those sectors of low wage labor--sales clerks, cashiers, 
janitors, security guards"--that appear to swell locally in proportion to 
the growth of select information-intensive industries.   
 In July 1996, a posting on the WWWAC (World Wide Web Artists' Consortium) 
list in July 1996 provoked a squall of comments that reflected the onset of 
labor anxieties within Silicon Alley itself.  A New Media publisher 
announced it was "looking for HTML slaves.  Applicants must love grunt work, 
long hours, fluorescent lights, caffeine and other stimulants, and display 
grace under pressure."  Despite, or because of, the dark humor of the 
posting, it touched a nerve among Silicon Alleycats, but it was an telling 
reflection of the economy of low-wage subcontracting that has already worked 
its way beyond the periphery of the industry.  The result is a steady 
depression of the wage floor, and not just for basic HTML mark-up.  Improved 
software can, overnight, turn skilled programming, coding, and image 
manipulation into grunt work, while the recent development of software like 
Fusion has rendered obsolete an entire temporary cadre of  that low-grade 
work.  At the time of the posting, there were public relevations about the 
garment sweatshops producing Kathy Lee Gifford's clothing line for children. 
 Suck cunningly revealed that the Wired staff occupied a floor in a building 
full of garment sweatshops. [***]  Suddenly, it  seemed as if the 
professional distance between the hi-tech HTML and the no-tech garment 
industries had been reduced to nothing.  The original subcontracting 
industrial shops of the turn of the century were back in business, cheek by 
jowl with the new postindustrial ones in the retrofitted manufacturing lofts 
of the cyber city.   
  Most of the analogies, or jokes, about Silicon Alley sweatshops reamin 
just that, but recently they have been accompanied by growing anxieties 
about New Media employment patterns, which, in the 1996 Coopers and Lybrand 
report, already showed up to 33% of the workforce composed of freelance, and 
part-time employees.  On the upper side of the industrial divide, 
contingent, or independent contracters, in the form of relatively well-paid 
designers (who can afford to eschew benefits and insurance packages and 
other forms of job security), move frequently from firm to firm, 
"pollinating" the culture, in the manner pioneered by Calfornia's Silicon 
Valley, the original model for this new, flexible style of corporate 
organization.    This highly mobile, elite cadre is to be distinguished from 
the army of temporary workers who work when and where an agency dictates, at 
agreed upon rates.  Nonetheless, the existence of a number of well-paying 
positions is habitually cited as evidence that New Media is a boom industry 
for young career-seekers.  For at least two years, Silicon Alley did provide 
this kind of boomlet environment,  offering a rapid step-up for those who 
had more or less taught themselves how to design from the only existing HTML 
manual of style. In a steadily maturing industry, the days are all but over 
when entry level workers could ease into the upper cadre after less than a 
year of basic designing.  While creative content will always remain at the 
core of New Media activities--48% of Silicon Alley labor is creative--as 
much programming and technical design as can be transferred to low-wage 
employment will undoubtedly follow that path in the years to come. 
There is nothing revelatory about these labor patterns; they are endemic to 
the business environment of start-ups.  But such anxieties are alien to the 
culture of the Internet world, so accustomed to its resident cybertopian 
boosterism, and, by extension, to a fledgling industry self-propelled by the 
inflationary zeal of that boosterism.  A year of high-profile job losses and 
gloomy industry predictions has all but deflated the bubble, and whatever 
vestiges of the utopian Barlovian temper had survived the passage from 
California's blue skies to Gotham's urban grit were all but stripped of 
their arrogant edge in the weeky struggle to survive.  For many owners of 
small web shops (for whom maintaining a content-driven site can cost between 
$300,000 and $1m a year), the future of  their business lies in petitioning 
the city and state for tax-exemptions, especially those sales and utility 
and unincorporated business taxes that affect telecommunications unduly.  In 
June 1997, New York City mayor Guliani responded with
  a $30 million job creation loan fund, aimed at emerging high-tech 
industries.   Earlier tax and infrastructure packages were designed to 
attract New Media companies to the northern tip of the Wall Street area, 
home of 55 Broad Street, the New York Information Technology Center, the 
model "wired" building,  and its immediate environment, peppered with 
"plug'n'go" pre-built, Internet-ready office space.  Silicon Alleycats are 
eager for such incentives, but loath to move so far south.  They may not yet 
be emulating the ways of the Wall Street giants, who threaten to move their 
office workforce to another state unless they are granted massive tax 
breaks, but the goal of tax-exemption hardly distinguishes New Media 
developers from the garden-variety corporate tax-evader.  Others swear that 
the marketplace alone should make or break Silicon Alley.  A third, 
admittedly more utopian, option is publicly-assisted job creation--jobs in 
the name of culture!  Is there any special responsibility on the part of a 
liberal society to justly reward creative labor? Questions like this open up 
heady regions of speculation about the costing of labor value, and the 
estimation of hidden wages.  Women and minorities have campaigned on the 
basis of equal pay, to compensate for the (higher) wages of masculinity, and 
whiteness, respectively (some portion of these wages being quite invisible, 
since they are cashed in the form of social privileges in daily life).  In a 
market-driven economy, some forms of cultural labor may need to be 
protected, most notably in the areas of arts and education.  But these are 
not propitious times for appealing to state support for artistic or 
intellectual freedoms.  A more effective form of public discourse would be 
to cost out the disparity in creative work salaries between the 
undercommercialized and the fully commercialized, profit-driven sectors.
Whether or not there will ever be a defensible position from which to demand 
sustainable assistance, the New Media sector, barely three years old,  is 
already being confronted with basic choices about the nature of cultural 
work in a business economy.  This is not just a quandary for industry 
insiders.  Given the avant-garde industrial location of the webshops,  the 
outcome may serve as a model for at least the next generation of cultural 
workers.   So before we all hop on the Info Love Boat,  let's make sure that 
everyone is getting paid enough.

Speeding Away

  Let me return to my unproven assertion about computing speed.  All of the 
readers of this book probably want our computers to go faster, and yet most 
of the people who work with computers already want them to go slower.  
Information professionals are used to thinking of ourselves as masters of 
our work environment, and as competitors in the field of skills, resources, 
and rewards.  Our tools are viewed as artisanal, and they can help us win 
comparative advantage in the field if they can access and extract the 
relevant information and results in a timely fashion.  In such a reward 
environment, it makes sense to respond to the heady promise of 
velocification in all of its forms: the relentless boosting of chip clock 
speed, of magnification of storage density, of faster traffic on Internet 
backbones, of higher baud rate modems, of hyper-efficient data-base 
searches, and rapid data-transfer techniques.  These tools are rhetorically 
aimed at the compression of space as well as time.  No longer bound by 
quaint, regional customs like travelling by Gophers, popping up whimsically 
all over our national maps, our vehicles are now oceangoing Navigators and 
global Explorers, although they are still called "browsers," as if to 
suggest that we are still in the local bookstore or branch library.  If we 
ourselves are not whizzkid designers of these technical environments, many 
of us know people who are.  A common repertoire of industrial, design and 
Internet user lore binds us together and reinforces our (para) professional 
esprit de corps.  But that shared culture also tends to disconnect us from 
the world of work where people want computers to go slower, even though 
these two worlds often overlap, and sometimes in the same office space.      
In the other world, the speed controls of technology are routinely used to 
regulate workers.  These forms of regulation are well documented: widespread 
workplace monitoring and software surveillance, where keyboard quotas and 
other automated measures are geared to time every operation, from the length 
of bathroom visits to the output diversions generated by personal e-mail.  
Occupationally, this world stretches from the high-turnover burger-flippers 
in MacDonalds and the offshore data entry sweatshops in Bangalore and the 
Caribbean to piecework professionals and adjunct brainworkers and all the 
way to the upper level white collar range of front-office managers, who 
complain about their accountability to inflexible productivity schedules.  
It is characterized by chronic automation, the global outsourcing of 
low-wage labor, and the wholesale replacement of decision-making by expert 
systems and smart tools; it thrives on undereducation, undermotivation, and 
underpayment; and it appears to be primarily aimed at the control of 
workers, rather than at tapping their potential for efficiency, let alone 
their native ingenuity.   
  	Some of you will object, quite rightly, to my crude separation of these 
technological environments.  Putting it this way  encourages the view that 
it is technology that determines, rather than simply enables, this division 
of labor.   This objection is surely correct.  It is capitalist reason, 
rather than technical reason, which underpins this division, although 
technology has proven to be an infinitely ingenious means of guaranteeing 
and governing  the uneven development of labor and resources.   
 So too, you might protest that many "first worlders" resent the pace of 
upgrading, enhancement, and boosting; they perceive this fierce tempo as 
augmenting, and not reducing, their labor; and they are self-critical about 
their addiction to the principle of the accelerated life. Likewise, many 
"second worlders" see upgrades as the basis of the industrial adjustment 
that saves their jobs, and information technology skills as their passport 
to occupational mobility,  higher income, and social status.  This objection 
is a little more tricky because it involves a conflict between how people 
perceive technological speed and how they respond to it.  While there is 
much talk about the widening gulf between information "haves" and 
"have-nots," the information rich and the information poor,  it is less 
easy, though by no means impossible, to say whose work and time is 
unequivocally regulated, and whose is unequivocally assisted and enhanced by 
technology.  One of the risks of this game is that you may end up believing 
that it is the designers and programmers and developers who are free from 
surveillance and who are thus personally responsible for the decision-making 
that shapes the regulatory capacity of the technologies.  In other words, we 
end up with the fallacy of Designer Determinism, which is just as misleading 
as that of Technological Determinism.  
Let me therefore revise, or qualify my original assertion. I don't want to 
reject it because I believe it barely needs to be proven that for a vast 
percentage of workers, there is nothing to be gained from going faster; it 
is not in their interests to do so, and so their ingenuity on the job is 
devoted to ways of slowing down the work regime, beating the system, and 
sabotaging its automated schedules. It is important, then, to hold onto the 
observation that complicity with, or resistance to, acceleration is an 
important line of demarcation.  But equally important is the principle of 
speed differential, because this is the primary means of creating relative 
scarcity-- the engine of  uneven development in the world economy. 
  	Commodities, including parcels of time, only accrue value if and when 
they are rendered scarce.  Time scarcity has been a basic principle of 
industrial life, from the infamous tyranny of the factory clock to the 
coercive regime of turnaround schedules in the computer-assisted systems of  
just-in-time production.  It is a mistake again to hold the technologies 
themselves responsible: the invention of the clock no more made 
industrialists into callous exploiters of labor than it made Europeans into 
imperialist aggressors.  Capitalism, on the other hand, needs to manufacture 
scarcity; indeed, it must generate scarcity before it can generate wealth.
Ivan Illich pointed this out in his own way in his 1974 essays on Energy and 
Equity, when he noted that the exchange value of time becomes a major 
economic component for a society at a point where the mass of people are 
capable of moving faster than 15mph.  A high speed society inevitably 
becomes a class society, as people begin to be absent from their 
destinations, and workers are forced to earn so much to pay to get to work 
in the first place (in high density cities where mass transportation is 
cheap, the costs are transferred on to rent).  Anyone moving faster must be 
justified in assuming that their time is more important than those moving 
more slowly.  "Beyond a critical speed" Illich writes, "no one can save time 
without forcing another to lose it."   If there are no speed limits, then 
the fastest and most expensive will take its toll in energy and equity on 
the rest: "the order of magnitude of the top speed which is permitted within 
a transportation system determines the slice of its time budget that an 
entire society spends on traffic."  
  Illich's, and others', commentaries on the emergence of speed castes from 
monospeed societies have progressively refined our common sense perception 
that the cult of acceleration takes an undue toll upon all of our systems of 
equity and sustainability: social, environmental, and economic.  You don't 
have to subscribe to the eco-atavistic view that there exists a "natural 
tempo" for human affairs, in synch with, if not entirely decreed by the 
biorhythms of nature, to recognize that the temporal scale of modernization 
may not be sustainable. Faster speeds increase a society's environmental 
load at an exponential rate.  The lightning speed at which  financial 
capital now moves can have a disastrous effect upon the material life and 
landscape of entire societies when regional markets collapse or are put in 
crisis overnight.  The depletion of nature is directly tied to the degree to 
which the speed of capital's transactions creates shortages and scarcity in 
its ceaseless pursuit of accumulation.   Regulation of social and economic 
speed in the name of selective slowness is a sound, and indisputable, path 
of advocacy.  But it is important to bear in mind that state and World Bank 
economists already practise such regulation, when they decide to "grow" 
economies at a particular speed in order to control the inflation specter 
and when they impose recessionary measures upon populations in order to 
enforce pro-scarcity regimes. It may be crucial to observe that only those 
going fastest possess the privilege to decide to go slower, along with the 
power to make others decelerate. 
Arguably, the emergence of Internet communications speed has enabled 
activist organizing to build a global network that can respond in some 
measure to the cruel work of these transnational managers.  The capacity to 
organize dissent and resistance on an international scale has been an 
undeniable asset of the new information landscape.  But it has also 
magnified the gulf between the temporality of activists--based around 
urgency and instant mobilization--and the temporality of 
intellectuals--based around the slower momentum of thought and theoretical 
speculation.  Many forms of radical thought require a patient process of 
germination that is antipathetic to the new speed of information 
circulation.  One traditional function of intellectuals--putting their names 
on petitions--has come into its own with the new global public sphere of the 
Internet, but the necessary links between movements of ideas and a movements 
of action have been more difficult to make in a virtual world where 
everything has to be done yesterday.

The Sophisticated Traveller 

    	Illich's analysis of time scarcity is, of course, drawn from the model 
of transportation and not communication technologies.  In our time, this 
distinction, arguably, has become less important, because 
cybercommunications are increasingly a means of near-instant transportation 
for information commodities of all descriptions, while they have reduced the 
need for transportation in the case of information homeworkers, and 
encouraged WWW users to see themselves as casual globetrotters.  It  would 
be a mistake to take this conflation of transport and communication services 
too literally, although it is part of the vision of the corporate sponsors 
of New Media technologies to embrace many different industrial sectors in a 
bid to service all of our needs through "one-stop communications"  The 
introduction of each new mass technology--telegraph, railway, 
electrification, radio, telephone, television, automobiles, airtravel--has 
always been accompanied by a spectacular package of promises, guarantees, 
and assurances that it will fulfill all of our democratic ideals, delivering 
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness at a discount price, and 
restoring all of our lost community into the bargain.  Increasingly, 
however, the concentration of multiple industries into single, transnational 
conglomerates has meant that the control over these comprehensive but 
illusory promises is invested in companies that actually do have the power, 
in principle, to reach out and touch us in many different aspects and zones 
of our waking lives. 
  Perhaps that is why our New Media hardware cannot afford to advertise any 
single function through its design in the way it used to do.  In the Machine 
Age of high progressive futurism, design observed the principle of  "form 
follows function."  In the case of of art moderne, streamline design  
conveyed the sense of a world moving fast, even when it was stationary. This 
design aesthetic applied not  just to fast-moving vehicles but also to 
domestic objects like pencil sharpeners and kettles.  The whole world was 
moving in one direction--forwards.   This design aesthetic has not been 
applied to technologies in the Information Age.  The casing designs for 
information hardware have retained the chunky, robotic iconography of office 
equipment, and have not generally sought to simulate the physical sensation 
of unidirectional speed, opting instead for the comfort-oriented ergonomic 
designs of recent years.  No different are the designs for laptop computers, 
which emphasize their compact mobility in a circumspect, low profile way; 
there is no outward sign of what these sleek dark boxes are actually used 
for.  For those who do not possess them, or who do not live in the world of 
high-speed communications, they have the sinister look of stealth 
technologies, aggressively associated with defence, security, and 
inaccessibility.  We are far removed from the blithe, self-promotional 
impulse of Cadillac tailfin styling.  Which is to say that these new 
machines are not graphic billboards for the good life.  They appear as 
status symbols of access, inscrutable gateways to an invisible world of 
wealth, power and knowledge, even carnal, that is always just out of reach.  
Predictably, mass audience ISP salesmanship often employs the voyeuristic 
rhetoric of the circus peepshow or sexclub barker, promising salacious 
experiences that lie just beyond the black curtain.  Sign up for Internet 
access and it will all be yours, uncensored,  or, as McKenzie Wark has 
satirized the techno-sublime equivalent: buy more RAM and you will be free!
  The selling of the Information Age has rested on many such promises of 
hidden delights but has also appealed to anxieties about being left behind, 
without a stake or address on the frontier when the bonanza finally arrives. 
Three years ago, telephone giant AT&T  ran a series of bizarre advertising 
campaigns, remembered as the "You Will" commercials, informing us that when 
the Information Superhighway finally does get built, their company will be 
the one to serve you.  This was blue-sky futurism at its most perverse, and 
probably betrayed more about corporate anxieties than about those of 
consumers. Today, it is the TV manufacturers that are banking on the more 
familar, domestic architecture of the television set to deliver access  in 
the form of WebTV.  Most mass customers still have no idea what it is they 
are buying into.  The benefits of being able to surf around the WWW are much 
more difficult to conceptualize than were the benefits of watching football 
game live on TV or of travelling quickly and comfortably from Phildelphia to 
Cleveland.  It is no surprise then that the design inscrutablity of the 
cyberbox--its refusal to communicate any messages about its function, rather 
like the monolith in 2001--can be viewed as a commercial asset, because it 
suggests unrestricted, albeit indefinite, returns to the consumer, and not 
as a liability, connoting insufficiency, obsolescence, or inertia.  In this 
sense the cyberbox is the physical embodiment of the flexible, 
multidirectional global vision of the transnational corporation; it is never 
out of place because it can be anywhere, it can do anything; nothing in the 
material world is lost in its translation of space, and what is lost in the 
way of temporality is gained by always being in more than one place at the 
same time.  The history of corporate logo design can shows us in shorthand 
how we got here.  Consider the historical progression of corporate logos, 
which have moved away from the typographic solidity of block capitals, in 
the age of incorporation and national capitalism, to the celebration of 
speed and mobility suggested by sans serif lettering, at the dawn of 
postindustrialism, and finally to the widespread use of globes and orbital 
pathways in the logos of today's age of transnationalism. 
 	These are smart motifs, indelibly associated with today's smart machines 
and the competitive SAT scores that are supposed to measure the cognitive 
speed of our students' mental processing.  They also evoke a world of 
immateriality, which, on the face of it, appears to be cleaner, and less 
toxic to natural life, than the smokestack age.  Consider, however, the 
sheer volume of nature that has to be moved to produce computer hardware.  
According to a study by the Wuppertal Institute, the fabrication of each PC 
requires the consumption of from 15 to 19 tons of energy and materials. The 
high-grade minerals used for PC components can only be obtained through 
major mining operations and energy-intensive transformation processes.  By 
contrast, an average automobile requires about 25 tons.   Mass 
computerization holds little guarantee of an eco-friendly system of
 The progression from auto to PC has not stood in the way of the widespread, 
and apparently anachronistic, use of the automobile age metaphor of the 
Information Superhighway, or Infobahn, which functioned for a number of 
crucial years (I don't believe it does any longer) as the most persuasive 
point of reference for describing the new communications networks.  One is 
tempted to think of the use of this metaphor and all its 
accoutrements--ramps, regional backbones, testbeds--as an example of what 
McLuhan called rearview mirrorism, whereby the forms of an older technology 
are reflected in the content of the new.  My instinct is to suggest a less 
formalistic explanation. 
 In the US at least, the metaphor was introduced at a time, in the early 
1990s, when government was being petitioned to fund a large portion of the 
infrastructure. Some legislators, many public interest groups, and most 
small companies saw this form of sponsorship as the only way of ensuring 
that the telecom giants would not build and dominate an entirely privatized 
system of networks from the get-go (as the railroad robber barons had done 
in the 19th century, though not without lavish gifts, from the state, of 
millions of acres of public lands).  A more recent model of state 
subsidization of private interest was the interstate highway system,  a 
public works project constructed in the name of national defence and General 
Motors, and powerfully overseen in the Senate by the father of Al Gore, who 
subsequently became the most vocal proponent of the Information 
Superhighway, spouting the rhetoric of the NII and the Global Information 
Infrastructure (GII) at every available moment in the first term of the 
Clinton administration.  With the acendancy of the Internet, all of these 
plans have changed.  The corporations that had been promised the role of 
gatekeepers and highway toll-collectors have been obliged to re-orient and 
re-channel all of their development strategies through the Internet.  Talk 
about the Information Superhighway is scarce these days.


 There is another story to tell, however, about the decline of the  
Information Superhighway concept, and the rise of more ecologically- 
resonant images and metaphors associated with the Web.  It is a story much 
favored by the Barlovians, in which the biological triumphs over the 
mechanical, and it is a re-boot of the paradigm Leo Marx named as the 
Machine in the Garden, which has been a staple of American philosophical 
exceptionalism ever since industrialization made its forced entry into the 
eco-paradise of the New World.  According to one version of the paradigm, 
healthy biotechnics are always on the verge of replacing life-threatening 
paleo-technologies.  In the latest upgrade,  popularized by Wired, the 
organic, interconnected world of natural, self-regulating communities and 
networked information technologies is replacing the obsolete rigid, linear 
structure of a mega-machine civilization built for privatized mobility at 
the price of hard-energy overconsumption.  The bad ecological associations 
are being discarded, along with the framework of centralized control that 
had been the hallmark of a Fordist system of production epitomized by the 
automobile industry. The World Wide Web offers a compact metaphor for the 
new communitarian ethos, charged with eco-friendly iconography.
  	Government's green hand was also apparent, in the figure of Al Gore, who, 
contrary to reputation, has been more active in the realm of technology, 
than in environmental, legislation. In the White House, his profile as an 
environmentalist served him well in instigating the first official trial 
runs of the Infobahn concept, in November 1992, with the creation of a 
National Information Infrastructure Testbed, called Earth Data Systems.  
This testbed project linked computers via telephone lines at nine sites 
across the country to share 20 years of environmental data on tropical 
deforestation and ocean pollution.  Pursued by a model network of public and 
private institutions (A.T.& T., Oregon State University, the Department of 
Energy's Sandia National Laboratory, the Digital Equipment Corporation, 
University of California, Berkeley, Ellery Systems Inc., Essential 
Communications, and Hewlett-Packard), this was intended to be a showcase 
public interest project--no pornography, no data snooping, no consumer 
marketing, no virtual shopping clubs, no corporate computer crime, in short, 
none of the embarrassing traffic that has plagued the Internet with bad PR 
more recently.  Ever since, then, one of Gore's jobs has been to  supervise 
the Information Infrastructure Task Force, set up to provide legal 
guidelines on patent and copyright issues (how to break the hacker, 
shareware ethic), privacy issues (how to protect corporate property as well 
as personal data), and technical policies regarding the "compatibility" of 
networks (how to arrange marriages in heaven for the telecom giants).    
 As for the White House itself, its newfound e-mail capacity to transmit 
government reports, policy plans, and robo-responses, presented an 
opportunity to bypass the editorial filter the established news 
organizations.  In principle, the voice of government, disinformation and 
all, could go directly to the people, unselected and uninterpreted by the 
media's guardians of public knowledge.  The capacity of a central 
information apparatus to construct a one-way, multi-lane superhighway in 
this manner appeared to militate against Gore's own comparison, in his book, 
Earth in the Balance, of the decentralized "design advantage" of systems of 
capitalism and democracy to the architecture of parallel computing systems 
and.     Unlike the command-and-control centralism of communism and CPUs 
respectively, representative democracy, for Gore, operates more efficently 
as a decision-making model, while parallel computing distributes processing 
capacity more advantageously around the memory field.  
The strangest, and most revealing comparisons, however, arise from the 
analogies that Gore drew in his book between information ecology and the 
ecology of natural resources. There, he elaborates variously on the cliché 
that there is a carrying capacity to our human ability to process 
information, and therefore that information overload is analagous to the 
exhaustion of natural resources:  
Our current approach to information resembles our old agricultural policy. 
We used to store mountains of excess grain in silos throughout the Midwest 
and let it rot, while millions around the world died of starvation. It was 
easier to subsidize growing more corn than to create a system for feeding 
those who were hungry. Now we have silos of excess data rotting (sometimes 
literally) while millions hunger for the solutions to unprecedented 
problems.... Just as we automated the process for converting oxygen into 
carbon dioxide (CO2)--with inventions like the steam engine and the 
automobile--without taking into account the limited ability of the earth to 
absorb CO2 we have also automated the process of generating data--with 
inventions like the printing press and the computer--without taking into 
account our limited ability to absorb the new knowledge thus created. (EB,

Or another example:

Vast amounts of unused information ultimately become a kind of pollution. 
The Library of Congress for instance receives more than ten thousand 
periodicals each year--from India alone!  And given that some of our 
accumulated information and knowledge is dangerous--such as the blueprint 
for an atomic bomb--keeping track of all the data can become as important as 
it is difficult. What if this toxic information leaks into the wrong places? 
(EB, 201)

What are the consequences of this kind of nonsense talk that compares 
information resources to natural resources?  Perhaps not much, but these 
kinds of mixed metaphors increasingly became standard fare in corporate 
discourse about the ecological virtues of information technology.   The 
boosterism of media executives and advertisers met the discourse of 
government bureaucrats on common ground,  reconciling the language of free 
market environmentalism with the language of the Infobahn, playing off 
information abundance against resource scarcity in the time-honored fashion.
 The purest examples of  this seamless boosterism, however, can be found in 
the claims of  leading Internet philosophers--the organic intellectuals of 
the Net.  Kevin Kelley is the most obvious example, not only because his 
ideas are consonant with the Wired ethos, but also because they carry on 
their back a rich history of countercultural memories culled from the early 
heyday of the  Whole Earth Review and Co-Evolution Quarterly.  It is 
important to read Kelley's influential book, Out of Control, with one eye on 
the countercultural past and one on the corporate present.  That way you 
will see how the anarchist, libertarian values of 1960s decentralization, 
communitarian self-regulation, biosocial engineering, and relative autonomy 
within organic connectedness have become integral to the newly greenwashed 
corporate philosophies of our day. Kelley's hymns of praise to the 
biologizing of the machine, to the death of centralized, top-down control, 
to webby nonlinear causality, to the superorganic consciousness of 
swarmware, and to the evolved distributed intelligence of parallel computing 
read like a subtle inventory of public relations jargon for any large 
telecommunications company.
 Nowhere in Kelley's 500-page book is there any mention of the "second 
world" which I described earlier--the low-wage world of automated 
surveillance, subcontracted piecework, crippling workplace injuries, and the 
tumors in the livers of chip factory workers.   Nowhere is there any 
recognition of the global labor markets--with their cruel outsourcing 
economies--that provide the manufacturing base for the new clean machines.   
Nor is his book an exception. There is a complete and utter gulf between the 
public philosophizing of the whizzkid New Media designers, artists and 
entrepreneurs and the global sourcing of low wage labor enclaves associated 
with the new information technologies.  Boosters like Kelley speak of an 
ethic of "intelligent control" that is emerging from the use of the New 
Media. The term is hauntingly accurate, because it evokes a long history of 
managerial dreams, on the one hand, and automated intelligence on the other. 
 How you feel about this ethic may ultimately depend on which side of the 
division of labor you find yourself.  
Again, the problem lies not with the technologies themselves, nor, 
ultimately, with the speed at which they operate. I say this because I have 
to believe that it is possible to have an affordable, sustainable media 
environment--boasting a diverse range of media, from private to 
publicly-supported to the small bohemian independents--without electronic 
sweatshops just as it is possible to have a sustainable world of fashion 
without garment sweatshops.  But as long as we keep one realm of ideas apart 
from the experience of the other, people simply will not make the connexions 
between the two. 

[from the author's forthcoming book "Real Love: Essays for Cultural Justice" 
included also in ZKP4, search www.factory.org/nettime for more info ... /p ]

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