Digital Labor

Tanja Sihvonen


Dr. Tanja Sihvonen is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Digital Games Institute, University of Malta and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Turku (Finland).

“I Am Gonna Stay Tonight with You” Maria’s GentleWhispering: Voice, Affect and Gendered Digital Work 
“Hey sweetie, how are you doing? Are you having nightmares again?” These spoken vocalisations audible at an elusive limit between whispering and softly timbred pitched sound emanate from the computer. The actor involved in this performance is visible in the YouTube video: our aural identification of the voice as female coincides with the visual presence of a young woman whose long blonde hair, sympathetic posture, eye contact and tender body movements qualify as readily feminine. Later, the video’s audiovisual texture extends to include tactile gestures and sonorities as the woman lightly strokes the pages of the children’s storybook she is reading from.

This video, titled ‘XO Sleepy Time OX’, is one of nearly 200 postings on the YouTube channel GentleWhispering maintained by Maria who consistently features in all of the videos. The most striking aspect of these is the above-described character of Maria’s vocalisations which her numerous followers indeed seem struck by. Their descriptions of the effects of Maria’s voice – enhanced by the videos’ overall sensorial fabrics – range from relaxing, arousing and tear-jerking to brain “tingles” and “orgasms.” These descriptions link the performances to the broader phenomenon of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) that is typically defined as the emergence of pleasurable physical sensations or “tingling” in the head, scalp, spine and limbs elicited by visual, olfactory, auditory and especially vocal stimuli.

In this paper, we engage Maria’s whisperings to explore how the voice might matter to questions of gender, affect and affective labour in the contexts of digital media, DIY cultures and online communities. While some recent studies (e.g. Neumark et al. 2010) have queried the reconfigurations of voice in digital culture, its associations with affect and significance to such issues as DIY stardom await to be accounted for. Simultaneously, the discussions on digital work are yet to fully acknowledge theorisations around affective labour and its gendered dynamics. Maria’s whisperings can be regarded as instances of care and nurture that are now being brought into the realm of communicative capitalism (Dean 2008) through intensive remediation. Through initially pursuing these thematic lines, we hope to consider how the vocal acts of Maria as affective media labourer may illuminate the intertwined roles of digital technology, blurred professional/amateur boundary, self-entrepreneurship and body – as well as voice – as sites of capacity and value production within the developments and investigations of affective capitalism.

Digital Labor, Sex Work, & Maria's GentleWhispering
Fri, November 14
02:15 PM - 04:45 PM