Gordon Hull sends us this guest post:
Writing at the Atlantic, Ian Bogost develops the concept of “hyperwork” to describe the constantly-on conditions of work in contemporary society. The gist of the argument is that we (technology users, anyway) are overworked because we are doing a lot of jobs. As he puts it, “No matter what job you have, you probably have countless other jobs as well. Marketing and public communications were once centralized, now every division needs a social media presence, and maybe even a website to develop and manage. Thanks to Oracle and SAP, everyone is a part-time accountant and procurement specialist. Thanks to Oracle and Google Analytics, everyone is a part-time analyst.” And that’s before we get to try to manage email. Most of these extra jobs aren’t paid, but the loss of money is not nearly alarming as the loss of time.
At Cyborgology, my colleague Robin James takes up one point that Bogost does not make: that the new jobs we are all working are, by and large, traditionally jobs held by women or other minorities, for which traditionally “feminine” attributes of caring and nurturing are useful. She wonders aloud whether the phenomena of hyperwork will thus alter our notions of femininity.
Another point to which Bogost gestures but that needs more emphasis relates to what Tiziana Terranova, Paolo Virno, Franco Berardi, Antonio Negri and others of the Italian “autonomist” school of thought call “cognitive capitalism,” which is basically a Marxist interpretation and critique of the “net economy.”
I think an autonomist account of the hyperemployment problem Bogost follows: we’re on 24/7 because nothing in life escapes capital, so every moment in every day is an opportunity for surplus value extraction, either for your actual boss, or for the many other jobs you do. Many of those jobs are created by your boss, and others are created by things like the software your boss uses (all those Java updates!). At the same time, everything you do provides a potential source of capitalist valorization, because, if nothing else, it adds content and thus value to the total network.
I’ve set up the autonomist argument to make a point about gender. If we take masculine and feminine roles under Fordism as roughly being the producer and the support network (so dad goes and makes cars, mom provides emotional support, cares for the kids, and keeps the house clean, etc.; dad is the boss, mom is the secretary), it’s important to the assignment of roles that dad be making stuff – his value-added is in the tangible goods he produces which then enter the market, and he gets paid for that. Compare this to mom, who is essentially already producing either immaterial goods (a relaxing environment for Dad to come home to), or goods that aren’t recognized by the economic system. So mom's labor is alienated (if you prefer 1844 Marx) or contributes 100% of its value as surplus value (if you'd rather read Capital), or simply exists outside the market which has been defined as our only source of value (if you'd rather read Marxist feminism). In any case, they all agree on this point: one way you know you’re doing women’s work is that you don’t register in the market as a producer and so you don't get paid.
Under post-Fordist cognitive capitalism, where immaterial goods are hegemonic and where everything has been subsumed into the system, the line between dad’s and mom’s roles gets considerably blurry. This state of affairs isn’t good for anyone except the owners of Facebook and Google. Since dad’s product is immaterial, it’s hard to distinguish between the product and the support network that produces it. So dad suddenly has to be his own secretary, and his workload goes up. He also is put in the position of caring for the technological support network he’s obliged to use to create value (install the latest security updates! Relearn to use your software because the vendor made just enough infuriating changes to the interface that you have to change how you use it, but not enough to make the program any better! Clean out your email!). Since there’s no clear separation between, say, work and not-work relations, or work and home, there is no way to set the not-work relations aside (the point can be made the other way: there is a reason the boss wants to monitor dad’s Facebook postings, since from this point of view, those postings are potentially part of work-dad).
There’s also no longer a clear line from mom’s side, because the support roles are all now part of the surplus-value-extracting networks of cognitive capital. Mom now has to manage those soccer emails. So More Work for Mother, too. Way back in her “Cyborg Manifesto,” Haraway suggested that the rise of technocapitalism would both further marginalize the already marginal, and “feminize” traditionally “masculine” roles. She also proposed that the boundaries between human and machine would blur. It seems to me we have all of those here.