Mark Andrejevic’s article “Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of User-Generated Labor,” provides a rather sinister reading of YouTube, a site heretofore we have considered a democratizing platform. At first thought, most wouldn’t consider a site that allows users to create and distribute content, many of which are “homemade,” as being exploitative. After all, those who use YouTube aren’t being forced to work in a cramped factory line, doing the same repetitive task for twelve hours a day. However, Andrejevic suggests that YouTube can still produce exploitative opportunities despite the appearance that user-generated and user-created content enables autonomy and freedom. Users (the workers) provide “free” labor by generating information and data that can be used for advertising purposes and thus generating profit that only benefit the advertisers (the capitalists). In addition, by uploading their product onto a privately owned and commercial interface like YouTube, the user is effectively alienating themselves from their product of their labor (Andrejevic 418).
I’m curious about how he would view the concept of “playbour,” a term introduced in an earlier reading, “Popular Culture, Digital Archives and the New Social Life of Data” by David Beer and Roger Burrows. In this article, the authors provide a rather opposing stance on digital culture and capitalism. Playbour is “the significant phenomena of the growing amount of ‘labouring’ people are undertaking as they ‘play’” through interacting with Web 2.0 applications or social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and the like (Beer and Burrows 49). From this perspective, user-generated content is not exploitative as the user is engaging in play. A critique of capitalism is that it forces workers to perform meaningless tasks in exchange for a wage and capitalists benefit from the surplus value. However, creating and uploading videos to the YouTube community would appear, according to Beer and Burrows, to be a form of play and inherently important and meaningful to the producer. Furthermore, the “labor” they are performing benefits a community, rather than the individual capitalist (or group of capitalists).
However, from Andrejevic’s article and the political economist lens, playbour might be more sinister than I previously thought while reading Beer and Burrows. In blurring the lines between play and labor, playbour means that the worker is even more deeply engrained with the capitalist system. Disguising labor as play prevents the worker from recognizing he is being exploited and enforces the capitalist’s power over surplus value. Additionally, the worker is constantly connected to the work place via digital platforms like the smart phone, so that even when he comes home, he is still able to check and respond to email. Theoretically, the capitalist would seem to be able to extract even more surplus value, since the worker is technically doing this work during the time that was historically reserved for leisure. Despite the freedoms digital culture seems to offer us, it would appear that we remained entrenched in an exploitative system.
Andrejevic, Mark. “Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of User-Generated Labor.” The YouTube Reader. Ed. Pelle Snickards and Patricia Vonderau. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009. 406-423. Print.
Beer, David and Roger Burrows. “Popular Culture, Digital Archives and the New Social Life of Data.” Theory, Culture and Society 30.4 (2013): 47-71. Web. 23 September 2013.