The invisible widget

Is this you, right now?

Is this you, right now?

INTERNET — Every day, you go to work and consider it a privilege. In fact, you pay your bosses for what you have always considered a service. It’s fun to go to work.

You work for a few different bosses, depending on your tastes, but they are all sprawling monopolies that have usually cornered more than just one market.

Meanwhile, the invisible widgets you don’t know you are churning out are the hot product in the world’s fastest growing industry, easily worth trillions to your bosses each year.

Only a handful of your fellow workers are getting paid for their work, and if they are, the bosses don’t even tell them their wages. In fact, pay rates are a “trade secret” that change according to their whims, rules that are never disclosed. Speaking about pay in public is grounds for immediate termination.

The widgets you’re creating are made up of the ever-increasing wake of data and metadata left behind when you chat with friends on your favorite social media site, play a video game, watch videos, or order a book of medieval epic poetry.

It seems as if you are on the receiving end of great boons: Discount video games, books, and endless streams of movies that cost nothing or next to nothing. Isn’t it just too good to be true?

What has happened, likely without your noticing it, is that the harvest of your digital wake — your invisible widgets and labor — now easily pays for the negligible overhead needed for internet businesses to operate. Also, there’s the obscene profits.

You are paying to go to work for internet monopolies when you deserve to be paid.

As automation replaces jobs and increasingly leaves even educated young people with no hope for employment, it seems the one great light left for those starving and jobless because of things such as super-efficient combine harvesters is the production of data and metadata.

Like industrialization at the turn of the century, this informationalization of the economy has lead to monstrous exploitation which must be exposed and corrected. Unlike industrialization with its overworked children and terrifying factory floors, there is instead a sweet and pleasant dream overlaying the invisible exploitation and violence.

Edward Snowden has uncovered some ramifications of this informationalization with his revelations on the NSA. The major response from Snowden supporters has been to pull out of big data’s gaze with the use of cryptography. This view places the focus overwhelmingly on the rights of the individual, which must at all costs be preserved. Any of the potential sociological or valid security benefits possible with big data collection by government are in this view too often altogether discarded or ignored.

Rather than dismantle mass data collection, as Luddite textile artisans smashed mechanical looms, the informationalized economy must be democratized. Bosses need to pay their workers a fair wage and keep children off of factory floors. Collective bargaining and organization — a careful move away from the overburdened and even fetishistic emphasis on individual rights — can and will pave the way for new utopian dreams.

 

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