A series of affective and social activities in the digital sphere. The term is concerned with increasingly collapsed notions of work and play, as well as algorithmic control and other engagements with digital media and digital technology. Digital labor is considered an extension of, and expansion on, pre-existing capitalist modes of production. Digital labor produces physical commodities that are likely not economically shared by its producers (or, digital labor produces capital/value that is likely not shared amongst those engaging in digital labor) because the original action of production might not recognized by the market or by those involved in the transaction to be labor.
Immaterial labor refers to the work that does not produce commodities in the traditional sense, but instead produces commodities that are cognitive (requiring knowledge, attention, memory, problem solving, decision making, language, etc), affective (related to moods, feelings, and attitudes), and emotional (related to feelings and intertwining with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation). Work where the commodities produced are likely not economically shared by its producers (the workers). Immaterial labor is linked to the propagation of corporate economic policies, which turn risk and precarity over to workers. The term immaterial labor was popularized by Italian sociologist and philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato in the 1990s, and further explored by Franco Berardi ("BiFo") in The soul at work: from alienation to autonomy and Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Italian Marxist sociologist and political philosophers, in their books, Empire, and Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, as well as Judith Revel, and Paolo Virno.
Affective labor / emotional labor
Affective labor and emotional labor can both be defined as: a type of immaterial labor meaning work that requires the laborer to take on or project a cognitive, affective or emotional experience, and are used interchangeably. For example, the sort of additional emotional work that servers in restaurants engage in when they are required to smile and be friendly.
The term ‘emotional labor’ was first commonly used within the Wages for Housework campaign of the 1970s, which demanded that unwaged, affective and domestic roles usually relegated to women be considered labor, expanding the definition of labor into the social and performative realms. The term ‘affective labor’ was coined later by scholars Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt in their books; Empire (2000), and Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004).
Time-famine is a phrase to indicate an increasing, shared experience of being under pressure due to time constraints amidst the bombardment of various media with seemingly endless tasks and upkeep (i.e. emptying the inbox). Time-famine would be said to be increased due to collapsing notions of work and play (juggling the work-life balance) amidst new, digital economies– for example the way that many social medias are used for both personal and professional purposes, and the exacerbation of this problem due to the burgeoning “freelance economy.”
In her essay, “Hope Labor: The Role of Employment Prospects in Online Social Production” (2013) Kathleen Kuhn coins this term to describe unpaid work done for an undetermined, later payoff. She associates “hope labor” with digital and social content production, such as blogging, as well as the rise of unpaid internship and other speculative social endeavors and activities engaged in purely for their association or focus on preparing someone to get a job, but which are not compensated.
Crowdsourcing and digital labor
Crowdsourcing involves the mass participation (also known as peer-production) of communities of individuals towards a shared outcome. Social media websites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Wikipedia) are sites comprised of the profiles and interactions of many users who partake in the uses and applications of the platform to generate media (text, images, affectively laboring communities based in media exchange) but do not receive the shared revenue generated by the advertising revenue and other profit generated from their shared interaction. New labor markets have made it increasingly hard for creators to profit off of their work and to maintain a decent quality of life. Crowdsourcing has been associated with the replacement of previously waged jobs with automation and the devaluation of knowledge-work. Crowdsourcing platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Wikipedia), and the related market-manifestation in sharing economy (Uber, Air B&B, MOOCs), have made it increasingly hard for creators to profit off of their work (let alone consider their own immaterial labor to be work) and to maintain a decent quality of life.
Micro-work is a small unit of work that represents a unit of a larger project. Micro-work has come to be defined as a (market-driven) process of distributing many tasks to many people. One well known examples is the Amazon Mechanical Turk, where workers can choose small tasks like identifying photographs or participating in surveys or social science research studies, and some virtual call center models, in exchange for minimal compensation.