User-Generated Content: Free Labor

In an April 2006 post I discussed this briefly, but it is important to return to it: the critical notion that the global shift towards a more participatory media culture, the trend towards inclusion of user-generated content in the creative process of media companies (examples are modding in games, buzz marketing in advertising, citizen-journalism), and the wider social privileging of collective over expert intelligence in fact also boils down to providing corporations with free labor.

This in turn increases the opportunities for capitalist enterprises to put pressure on their workers ("if you do not like it, hey, I've got a hundred consumers willing to do it for free!"), to further undermine prospects for collective organization (in a fragmented/networked marketplace unionizing does not make much sense - their does not seem too be a foundation for joint action).

As I wrote earlier, one way of looking at the corporate embrace of user co-creation is to question the implied economic valorizing of people's voluntary creativity and cultural production. It is in this context that Tiziana Terranova wrote:
"Simultaneously voluntarily given and unwaged, enjoyed and exploited, free labor on the Net includes the activity of building Web sites, modifying software packages, reading and participating in mailing lists, and building virtual spaces on MUDs and MOOs. Far from being an 'unreal', empty space, the Internet is animated by cultural and technical labor through and through, a continuous production of value that is completely immanent to the flows of the network society at large" (originally in Social Text 18/2, 2000).
She refers to the notion of 'free labor' as the ultimate engine of the so-called knowledge society, information age and digital economy.

It is the ultimate quandary of the creative industries model in analyzing cultural production work: the intervention of the (digital capitalist) market into any and all aspects of media work - which includes production and consumption (also known as prosumption or produsage).

To some extent the idealist/utopian vision of cyberspace's collective intelligence seems awkwardly similar to the neo-liberal vision of a global free market. Although I am not hostile to the free market idea per se, if that is the only model or system in place - it becomes just as scary and totalitarian as Communism or Fascism.

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