Being currently at the Oxford Internet Institute, I have access to a wide range of great talks by scholars researching the Internet (in fact, there are almost too many events to attend!). On Monday and yesterday two talks touched upon the negative and exploitative aspects of the Internet and its connective culture.
The first talk by Gina Neff focused on venture labor, a concept that Neff introduced in her seminal study “Venture Labor”. It connected Neff’s work on high-tech workers in the “Silicon Alley” of the late 1990s to current developlements related to micro-labor, such as click farms in Bangladesh, low cost transcription services in the Philippines or Mechanical Turk workers and Uber drivers all over the world. Interesting parallels between the venture labor of the late 1990s and micro-work today were revealed in the narratives of the workers themselves. Many of them seem to see their employment as an entrepreneurial investment – a view that is also imposed on them from the outside via government policies and initiatives.
The second talk featured Jenny Chan, a lecturer at the University of Oxford’s “School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies”. She presented an impressive long-range ethnographic study about the terrible working conditions of Foxconn employees manufacturing iPhones and iPads in South China. Her talk took the suicides in 2010 as the starting point and showed how these workers are actually “Dying for an iPhone”.
Both talks highlighted that behind the shiny facade of newness, innovation and progress connected with the Internet many people pay a heavy price, are suffering.. or even dying.
Stay tuned for more updates from the OII!