Digital Labor

​Matthew Tiessen


Matthew Tiessen is an Assistant Professor in the School of Professional Communication (ProCom) in the Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) at Ryerson University (Toronto). He is also a Research Associate at Ryersons’s Infoscape Research Lab: Centre for the Study of Social Media (founded and directed by Dr. Greg Elmer). Matthew holds a SSHRC Insight Development Grant in the area of “Digital Economy” in support of his research and publishing in the area of visual communication and digital culture. His SSHRC-funded research focuses on the ways mobile screen-based technologies are increasingly being used by governments, corporations, and professional organizations to develop algorithmically driven “gamification” protocols and “ubiquitous computing” logics and platforms designed to add digitally enhanced “achievement layers” to everyday activities. Matthew’s interdisciplinary research and publishing also focuses on visual communication and design, affect and aesthetic theory, and critical information studies.

Digital Labor and Geographies of Crisis
Capital, as value in motion, often leaves local labor behind in the search for higher profits. But capital must be fixed into place for production to occur, creating a whole sociotechnical infrastructure whose form changes with the mode of production: Ford’s factories and Facebook’s platforms, Ma Bell’s wires and Equinix’s server farms. Over time this spatial fixity becomes a barrier to higher profit rates and so leads to overaccumulation and devaluation. Capitalism is constantly seeking a ‘spatial fix’ to these local problems before they can bloom into full-blown crises: A move to new geographies is sought, where new socio-technical infrastructure can be built to elicit consumption, outsource production, or accumulate cheap labor (Harvey, 2007). This roundtable debates how these geographies of crisis are formed within digital spaces, and how digital labor is segmented, distributed, pushed and pulled across digital spaces in the lead-up to and fallout from crises. Social media may provide new spaces and times of accumulation, but free labor is often pushed elsewhere (e.g., from MySpace to Facebook) while the platforms remain, in a manner analogous to white flight (boyd, 2011). Communications infrastructure allows for financiers to trade billions of dollars across the globe in seconds, but crashes can spread just as quickly (Golumbia, 2013). Questions we’re interested in include: What does a bubble feel like from the inside and how does that experience resonate across networks? How does the primitive accumulation of digital labor compare to the industrial experience? How do digital technologies open up new modes of resistance to the speed-ups and outsourcing which capitalists use crisis to justify?

Matthew Tiessen will draw on his work on high speed algorithmic trading and gamification.

Digital Labor & Geographies of Crisis
Sat, November 15
10:00 AM - 12:30 PM