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Something I found very intriguing about Brandy’s lecture was the set of dichotomies she listed, differences between the past and the present in terms of technology and Terranova’s Free Labor. These were:

  • atoms <=> bits
  • chemical reactions <=> algorithms
  • organisms <=> programs
  • real life <=> video games
  • nature <=> technology

These binaries are particularly compelling to me because I have been thinking extensively about the Mertonian ethos of science (as defined by Robert Merton), and the way it relates to the world of technology. Science, according to Merton, has certain key characteristics. These characteristics, which he calls “norms”, are institutional or community imperatives established and maintained by social learning. These norms uphold the internal structure and ethos of science. Specifically, they are communism (collaboration and sharing of work for the common good , universalism (the establishment of impersonal standards and criteria), disinterestedness (the lack of financial and emotional attachment to research), and organized skepticism (the idea that nothing is beyond scrutiny; this is the basis for critical discourse).

I have noticed, through my own experiences in and knowledge of computer science and other practices in technology, that most if not all of these Mertonian ideals are missing. In tech industry, the idea of sharing data or research is unthinkable because the industry is profit-based; therefore communism and disinterestedness are lacking. Additionally, the presence of global markets makes universalism meaningless; there need not be one universal standard of quality because with the help of targeted marketing, all quality is essentially made subjective (that is, consumers are not given any objective way to measure the quality of technological products). Organized skepticism is the Mertonian ideal most closely represented, because any innovation requires a constant rethinking of current ideas. But because of brand loyalty and the need to display confidence in one’s product, that mindset is often confined to the innermost workings of a company. Effectively, it seems, all the positive, necessary qualities of science are not practiced in the development of technology.

Brandy laid out the difference between Fordism and Toyotaism – this is essentially the move I am identifying. In Fordism, standardization and uniformity (Mertonian key terms) are important, as is physical or manual labor. In Toyotaism, however, workers are multi-skilled and communication and mobility are more important.┬áSo, then, if our society is transitioning from a scientific model to a technological one, as many of our readings might imply (such as those on control societies), what is the effect on the individuals within the system?

Terranova addresses exactly this point. In the age of free labor, culture is networked, affect is a primary source of labor, value is created through a mixture of knowledge and creativity. In fact, Brandy’s presentation even displayed a picture of Google’s headquarters (importantly called their “campus”) to make the point that productivity is now thought of as a mixture of work and play. But despite the flashy colors and positive imagery associated with this move towards digitally-based societies, new forms of exploitation are also brought into being. Terranova explains that unpaid “altruism” and labor as play blur the lines between producers and consumers and essentially mine labor from everyone, constantly.

Effectively, the move from a scientific society to a cultural one, from a disciplinary society to a society of control, from Fordism to Toyotaism, all culminates in the unilateral exploitation of all members of the networked community that Terranova identifies.