Lilly Irani is an Assistant Professor of Communication & Science Studies at University of California, San Diego. She is a co-founder and maintainer of digital labor activism tool Turkopticon. She is currently writing a book on cultural politics of innovation and development in transnational India.Her work has appeared at ACM SIGCHI, New Media & Society, Science, Technology & Human Values, and South Atlantic Quarterly and other venues. She has a Ph.D. in Informatics from University of California, Irvine.
Launches and Lifetimes: Developmental Time in Digital Labor
Booms and bubbles, demos and launches: these evocative markers of digital production are part of a naturalized temporality of technology’s developmental lifecycle; one that moves through sites of design and innovation, to adoption and recirculation, to maintenance, repair and decay. In the arc of this developmental narrative of digital production and progress, venture capitalists, software engineers, and hackers do seminal work, undergirded by the reproductive work of the customer support workers, system administrators, and project managers. While the organization of labor time has always been central to industrial capitalism, this panel examines how technological developmental time structures multiple sites of contemporary technological production, from the seminal moments of launches to the elongated temporalities of system lifetimes.
While the ethnographic sites we draw upon are varied, they help us to consider how developmental time organizes the production of value, prestige, and laboring subjects constitutively and relationally. We ask: How is time organized, prioritized, and legitimized in the lifeworlds of these digital labor practices? What digital labor time is compressed, multiplied, elongated, devalued? What kinds of time and labor are systematically disavowed and rendered invisible in these practices?
We consider how the particular temporalities of labor in digital technology production underwrite new forms of exclusion, opportunity, vulnerability, and difference that are cross-cut by gender, race, and class. As we do so, we keep an eye on strategies for locating the ways of subverting, interrupting, and queering these temporal regimes for the barricades and picket lines of the “digital” factories.
Lilly will focus on the creation of start-up value by hiding labor in ‘human API’ microlabor platforms such as Mechanical Turk and Crowdflower.
If digital labor is often conceived within the framework of industry – occupying the shadows of financial compensation – this assumes that monetary reward is the necessary end point for all labor transactions. This panel argues that a key site for digital labor and its hopeful possibilities is the work of civic hacking. This is digital labor premised on the idea of public good and the necessary provision of shared infrastructure and services.
A growing number of research and activist projects pivot on design expertise, code literacy and data analytics to mobilize resources and improve the quality of life for citizens and consumers. These affective, ameliorative, and civic registers offer a necessary complement to dominant visions of digital labor, and a means of foregrounding other kinds of profits to be gained from donated work.
Our discussion explores new forms of political participation that are enabled by the digital in ways that are situated, tactical and contextually relevant. Through analysis of civic and issue-oriented hackathons, the subjective intensity of informal code work, and the logistical activism of developing grassroots infrastructure, we illustrate data collection as activism. This new horizon for social computing uses technology to advance collective action.
Civic hackers trade on the language of entrepreneurialism and voluntarism to exploit avenues and applications for data. Brokering partnerships between local government, non-profit, activist and scholarly communities, this work builds connections as much as tools in a speculative but no less meaningful enactment of localized belonging. Civic hacking is a characteristic experience of immaterial labor, at once imaginative, pragmatic and symbolic. As we will contest, it is a labor identity that has the potential to challenge the stranglehold of enterprise in defining the character and composition of labor, by rivaling previous visions of work and its rewards.