The end-game of labour automation meets social media

So if we take the idea that social media users are the labour force that produces the product (social graph, for Facebook, adjust as relevant to your preferred social media platform) then how come no one has thought about the eventual endgame of the same process of automation that Marx spoke about happening in the factories of the 18th and 19th centuries?

Let’s look at an example: the ‘About Birds‘ Facebook page has 9-likes. One of them is me. Who else has liked this clearly spammerific etsy-esque store attempting valiantly to sell bird-decorated products? Actually ‘About Birds’ is just one of a suite of similar pages – About Monkeys, About Dolphins, etc – and some of the people who interact with these pages are clearly, well, bots or at best sock-puppets, and they appear to constitute the majority of the ‘likes’ on the page.

Is there a “real person” behind the Sharon Housley Facebook page? What about Sharon’s friends? Emmie Snow. Emma SnowMaya Locke. Jacob Maddox. Mick St James. All of these pages are clearly not what one would call the ‘average Facebook user’. They have some other more ‘legit’ seeming friends (goodnes knows why – perhaps for appearances sake? what do they think of these sockpuppet pages?) but I think viewing them as “spam” or “fake” accounts misses the most interesting and important aspect of them. Even if they aren’t “automated” in an algorithmic sense, instead being operated by “real” humans (this is mostly informed conjecture) then the work these accounts perform for pages like About Birds, and About Monkeys, etc, represents an automation of the generation of social metrics. Extra likes, extra comments, appear to be all these accounts contribute.

And it can only be a matter of time (in fact, thinking about it I’m 100% sure it already exists) before someone makes a fully automated “facebook account bot”, completing the process of automating social labour. Of course, this raises some interesting questions about the  value assumed to be contained in big data like Social Graph, etc. When it’s mostly bots, or mostly humans providing digital noise as cover for their real activities, where’s the profit?

Michael Clarkson evaluates some of FC3’s design

Michael Clarkson has a great post up analysing in some detail the design features of Far Cry 3 and their relative success or failure.

Most interesting to me is his discussion of why FC3 designs away the landscape, by encouraging the player to treat the map itself as the terrain, and this is borne out in how much more “vividly” he says he recalls FC2’s landscape vs FC3’s. Here’s what he has to say about one of the main design features that does it, and I’m glad he pointed it out because I don’t think I had made this point explicit myself (and I totally agree):

The oversimplified routing that results from the fast-travel system also contributes [to the player disregarding the landscape]. Far Cry 3 allows the player to teleport in close to a desired point and then take a relatively short and direct route to wherever the mission will start. So, at any time that the player has a goal in mind, his first action will always be to look at the map and find the nearest fast-travel point. The map itself, rather than actual travel through the world, becomes the journey. The world effectively becomes discontinuous and only coheres when mediated by the map. Additionally, the density of fast-travel points means that the player doesn’t have to really think deeply about the relationship between the map and the landscape, since the ease of travel mostly obviates the need for route-planning.

There’s a great level of depth to the rest of his analysis too, go check it out.

James Baldwin’s writerly interests

“About my interests: I don’t know if I have any, unless the morbid desire to own a sixteen-millimeter camera and make experimental movies can be so classified. Otherwise, I love to eat and drink – it’s my melancholy conviction that I’ve scarcely ever had enough to eat (this is because it’s impossible to eat enough if you’re worried about the next meal) – and I love to argue with people who do not disagree with me too profoundly, and I love to laugh. I do not like bohemia, or bohemians, I do not like people whose principal aim is pleasure, and I do not like people who are earnest about anything. I do not like people who like me because I am a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this will guide one alright. I consider that I have many responsibilities but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.

I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”

– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son, p.9


Music as Labour Technology – Gandy Dancers 1973

1973 16mm film by Jack Schrader and Tom Burton that features field recordings of work chants of Gandy Dancers including aligning songs and chants to knock out slack in the rail.  Shot with a 16mm Bolex camera without sync sound, the visuals shows men working with cross ties, aligning the track, and spiking.  The film focuses on the changes brought about by mechanization of railroad building. The film is part of the Burton Schrader collection in East Tennessee State University, ?Archives of Appalachia. A digital beta copy is in the Folkstreams archive in the Southern Folklife Collection in Chapel Hill.

The timing when the two men strike the spike into the rail with such rhythmic precision is immensely impressive. I like the closeups of their faces too, showing so much dirt and sweat, and how that contrasts with their highly technical hammering in time with music. Un-skilled labour this would be categorised as, but watching them hammer with such timing and precision (a commenter calls it “windmilling style” which is a great name for it) is just incredible.