What we are adept at is digital labor (consider the time and effort we have already put into this posting without recompense), but we have yet to define or form much of an identity around our input or output of information labor. Information may ‘want to be free’, but information labor wants be rewarded in some form because it represents the interests of embodied workers. Certainly, FB (or some social institution) should be geared to compensate digital workers for the value we are creating on this platform (or any internet platform), instead of requiring us to pay direct user or licensing fees (to a service provider), or even indirect fees for the rental of our processing consciousness (that is, mental time and labor) through the meta-collection of our personal data for marketing, cookies, advertising, etc. (FB, Google, Apple, Amazon, etc.).
To what degree are we, digital workers, contributing to the welfare of society by helping these information corporations spread their network effects and consolidate ever-larger monopoly information platforms? This is one reason why we have to organize ourselves as cooperative workers in a way that demands, leverages and generates dividends based on our production, distribution and use of the commons.
Another reason is that a social movement is waiting to be developed for creating commons and commoning practices around digital labor. Platform cooperatives are a start, but only when we use them in the development and management of municipalized and bioregionalized communities (through the mutualization of ownership and participation in these commons cooperatives). Digital labor and traditional/industrial labor are not opposing poles, but part of the continuum of evolutionary human labor. Digital labor has to get this right, because it forms our motive power in organizing the commons. This integration represents a complete liberation of technology from the industrial age (and the notion that we are mere information service workers destined for marginal wages), yet also reveals the roots of our mental work in physical work. We can’t think, write, plan, organize, or take social action if we don’t eat and our bodies are not supplying energy for these activities. As digital labor integrates the mental and biophysical, ending the socially determined mind-body split, it will also be breaking through the industrial forms of the division of labor and the modern social control, generating a new social contract for a sustainable economic and social system. This is entirely in the lineage of the traditional/industrial labor of our ancestors, who produced the commons which we have inherited, and from which we have greatly benefited.
A third reason for a digital labor movement is the influx of robotics in production. If AI manages to lower production costs, drive out a large portion of human labor, and destroy jobs and income, is the commons community adequately prepared to either embrace or stand against the social revolution that this will bring? This is where we now need to put our attention by developing a new understanding of labor. Obviously, our labor is both physical and mental, for it is the biology of our bodies that keeps both forms of labor in motion. This is why digital labor is a dead-end path if it is not grounded in, and vitally interconnected with, the biophysical labor that it takes to build thriving ecosystems from the commons of our current social economies. This integration must be taught and practiced if we are to join together for sustainability. That is why I say that digital labor for the building of commons cooperatives is how, why and what we must organize.
Photo by Tim Proctor