Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Exploitation of Everyone...

Trebor Scholz has posted a fascinating article titled, "What the MySpace Generation Should Know About Working for Free". He argues that as we use Web 2.0 sites like MySpace and YouTube - creating and contributing content to user-driven websites - we are in reality being economically exploited.

Of course it's no surprise that websites are trying to make money, and their popularity often is directly related to the quality and quantity of content that its users generate. But is that exploitation?

Before your knee-jerk reactions kick-in, consider both perspectives. Hollywood and the music industry have been claiming for years that to share their creative works on the internet is immoral and the same as stealing. If you support that viewpoint, then how can you justify the creative works of millions of people being commercialized by multi-billion-dollar media conglomerates who don't share even the tiniest fraction of profits with the poeple who actually created the material? NewsCorps and YouTube rake in the billions on the digital sweat of others' backs, who go completely uncompensated.

Then again, exploitation is such a harsh term. MySpacers are, after all, receiving a much-loved service for free. Most of us are pretty well-aware that someone somewhere is making money off of our use of their site. However we're willing to consider that a reasonable trade-off so long as our personal lives are enhanced.

Scholz writes, "The scale and degree of exploitation of immaterial labor is most disturbing when looking at the highest traffic sites. The sociable web makes people easier to use and this dynamic will only be amplified". Really? This seems to be a stretch of the imagination. YouTube hardly seems to be making it easier to economically exploit people. Otherwise, they might have figured out a way to finally turn a profit.

"Where are the people who care if big profits are made of their distributed creativity?". Sure, elite commercial websites might profit on the creative works that the rest of us generate, but in return we get to be creative and distribute our works on a scale the world has never seen. Maybe it is the ultimate irony, then, that decentralizing creativity will inevitably lead to greater concentration of capital.


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