Lazzarato "Immaterial Labor" and Holmes "Future Maps"
The integration of computer science into corporations and factories altered various aspects of capitalist production. From organization of labor and workspace to marketing and consumer relations adapted to the new tools that technology offered. The new tools made possible to gather and analyze data on extensive scale, which enabled companies to target their costumers with a new kind of precision and aggression raising questions regarding privacy and ethics. Both, Brian Holmes and Maurizio Lazzarato look into the production and consumer relations that rely on the computer science. In his paper ‘Future Maps’ (2007) Holmes investigates the kind of technologies that are being used in order to increase the flow of production and consumption. Various software which analyze data, create statistics and make predictions became prominent components in the current production cycle. Holmes examines the techniques that corporations use, first to harvest data from the public and then create environments where individuals are manipulated to make maximum purchases. Lazzarato on the other hand examines the alterations inside corporations. In his paper ‘Immaterial Labor’ (1996) he looks into labor and consumer relation inside current production modes. He reviews the emergence of the new types of experts and consumer communication tactics that emerge in result of recent alterations. Although the two papers touch some common grounds in regards to general modification of production modes, they investigate two distinct areas and have divergent tone towards their topics. Where Holmes has a critical view on the tactics that corporations undertake to increase their sales, Lazzarato seems to view his topic more as a natural byproduct of evolution in technological and general sense.
Holmes introduces set of tools (software) that are widely used today by corporations. These programs work by analyzing already existing data or they crate data by tracking and registering individual habits and behavior. A program that is widely used in the US-Personx is a consumer management system that is designed to divide population into different groups according their age, income, marital status etc. In the US it holds information about 110 million families, including email, address, telephone number and so on. The program profiles individuals by their cultural background, life style, hobbies and aspirations. It is able to detect when an individual is moving from one life-stage to the next; getting married or having a child, which makes it possible to present a customized product to a customer right at the beginning of these stages. InferX is another program that tracks near real time changes in information. Various data (bank, airport, ticketing agencies) can be uploaded into the program, which will analyze the data and will create a “norm” for each individual. The program is designed to alert when it detects patterns that are unusual-out of the “norm”. It also recognizes patterns that are similar, which makes it possible to categorize individuals into groups in accordance to their consumer habits. A program that is commonly used by big stores: Orbit Traffic Management Technology is a software that tracks costumers in shops using security cameras and analyzes their behavior. The owners can arrange and rearrange their stores in accordance to the program analyses to achieve better sales. By displaying advertising or products in specific points of a store the owners are able control the flow of consumption and manipulate it to their benefits.
Similar algorithms are being used today to obtain data from social networks. These cutting edge technologies allow information gathering even from those users who are reluctant to share any personal information about them. For example by analyzing one’s social circle (friends) algorithms can determine one’s age, marital status, sexual orientation etc. Or by analyzing one’s social behavior (pages being visited or information that is ‘liked’) the algorithms can predicts if one is going to break up with their significant other or fall into depression. These are the type of tools that are being used by the marketing departments today. Their aim is to track a potential costumer and be the first to offer the product or service that one may need. They do this by comparing single cases to those with similar pattern and make predictions that often are correct. By far the best example of this phenomenon is the incident that happened few years ago in the US. A young girl suddenly began to receive advertising for baby products from the chain of stores Target where she usually shopped. Although she was pregnant she felt violated and her family made a complain. The question is of course how Target knew that she was pregnant? The algorithm that Target began to implement just shortly before the incident happened was specially designed to increase the sales of baby products. It made the assumption that the girl was pregnant because she began to buy scentless hygiene products, which is common for pregnant women. By comparing her behavior to similar ones, the algorithm made a correct prediction about her pregnancy. After the incident Target refined their marketing tactics to make them less obvious by making their advertising to appear more random. So pregnant women would get advertising of baby products next to other product which on their turn were wisely chosen by the marketing specialist, namely products that pregnant women would not be interest in.
This kind of refinements of marketing tactics and the experts that are responsible for them bring us to the topic that Lazzarato investigates. Lazzarato’s text is focused on workspace and professionals in production units that he describes as ‘immaterial’. The emergence of this industry is partly a result of technological progress but mostly due to the fact that the Western World significantly reduced the production (actual making) of goods in the last few decades. Instead it is focused on research, conceptualization, design, marketing and sales. The experts that operate in these units, Lazzarato calls them ‘new intellectuals’, have to have skills and qualifications that are peculiar to immaterial labor: credibility to operate with complicated software, ability to manage his/her own working tasks and put their subjectivity into production cycle. Above all they have to have what Lazzarato calls ‘mass intellectuality’, which means to understand the current cultural and ideological environments and know how to make use of them. The task of these autonomous experts is to create informational and cultural content of a product, in other words to create a commodity. This is achieved by integrating the communication with the public into the production cycle. Continues feedback from a consumer is a characteristic of the production that involves immaterial labor. Today this is easily achieved with the technologies described by Holmes. The job of those in immaterial labor consists in establishing the demands of consumers by analyzing various data and then satisfying them by creating products that are reflective of the social values that originated them. The role of a consumer on the other end is to communicate (most often unknowingly) their needs and then receive the product and give it a place in the real life. Only if this cycle is successfully completed it will produce a commodity and will have an economical value. These commodities in their turn enter the ideological environments on the public, modifying or adding to them.
“The role of immaterial labor is to promote continual innovation in the forms and conditions of communication (and thus in work and consumption). It gives form to and materializes needs, the imaginary, consumer tastes, and so forth, and these products in turn become powerful producers of needs, images, and tastes. The particularity of the commodity produced through immaterial labor (its essential use value being given by its value as informational and cultural content) consists in the fact that it is not destroyed in the act of consumption, but rather it enlarges, transforms, and creates the "ideological" and cultural environment of the consumer.” (M.Lazzarato p 6)''
Lazzarato underlines that by ‘commodity’ he does not refer to a product that simply reflect an existing ideology but rather a product that constitutes something new to human ideological environment. Creation of these products requires human power and knowledge to come together. As new visions require new technologies and new technologies require new visions. Although immaterial labor strictly serves the capitalist, it is at the same time a playground where the latest innovation of technology, artistic creativity and sociology meet. In this sense Immaterial Labor embodies the high achievements of various disciplines of the last few decades. So we see that this new production mode integrates social communication into production cycle in order to produce commodities, which on their turn go beyond satisfying our needs by constituting to our ideological environment and influence our perception of the world.
Both circumstances described by Holmes and Lazzarato seem disturbing by their manipulative nature. The questions that arise from here are chiefly regarding the notions of freedom, privacy and ethics. Even if we leave out the question of privacy, namely the way information is harvest from the public, number of important questions remain. How can we be free in the environments that constantly try to manipulate us? Or how can we distinguish ‘real’ from ‘constructed’ while living in an ideology that is constituted by different marketing tricks. Where Lazzarato leaves us without any conclusions or solutions, Holmes proposes a counter movement where artists, hackers and cultural critics are joined by scientists, economist and philosophers in order raise awareness and articulate the manipulative nature of the cybernetic governance. Instead of coming together for ad hoc projects as it is done nowadays, Holmes proposes more institutionalized bodies whose task will be to reinvent the political structure of Neoliberalism. On an individual biases Holmes encourages us to engage with our everyday technologies in unauthorized ways instead of following predetermined structures. One could argue about Holmes’s proposed institutionalization of counter forces. It would be no surprise to find the goals of these institutions dampened under the pressures of bureaucracy and administration that an institution requires. However one thing is certain that the public should be better informed and aware about the manipulative forces that are implemented on them. What makes the phenomena described by Holmes and Lazzarato so dangerous is the fact that they operate in such silent and invisible manner. So making clear pictures of current governing systems and the way they operate is a primary step toward undermining them.