Encoded Labour

Matt Webb:

This idea of labour being hidden in things, and the value of things arising from the labour congealed inside them, is an unexpectedly powerful explanatory tool in the digital world.

Not quite The Matrix moment but as it turns out, we, the consumers, are the ones doing all the work. Not only that but as soon as we hit that submit button the content no longer belongs to us. Take the user away and you have no content. Take the content away and you have no platform.

What is the labour encoded in Instagram? It's easy to see. Every "user" of Instagram is a worker. There are some people who produce photos - this is valuable, it means there is something for people to look it. There are some people who only produce comments or "likes," the virtual society equivalent of apes picking lice off other apes. This is valuable, because people like recognition and are more likely to produce photos.

Feel like you're being used yet? One of the biggest barriers to the web in terms of self-publishing is the fact that it's not easy. Register a domain, find a host, point your domain at the host, find a turnkey content management system (CMS), deploy it, design the website, plug the templates into the CMS, write content, keep writing content, find the motivation to keep on going. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest: lock, load, push the button. Mingle with 900 million other people.

As the open web debate continues to evolve, or rather starts to eat itself from the outside in, the ability to host, and therefore own your own content, will no doubt come into play.

The second interesting point is that the word "user," as in a user of Instagram or Facebook, is dangerous, because it hides all of this.

Wake up. Or maybe that's it: in ten years from now you'll be fully goggled into Facebook, not knowing the difference between it and reality - whatever it is and whatever reality ends up becoming - and I'll come along in my silver ship and pull you out of there.