User:Bohye Woo/4th Project Proposal

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Updated on: 26th Nov, 2019

What do you want to make?

My data earnings will be too small to be worth it! (Lanier, 2019)

I propose to build a modern-colonial labour publishing infrastructure, a series of analysis that extract the essence of Japanese colonial dominance in Korea and map out the landscape that links colonial characteristics to the digital corporate society.

Colonialism is a history that keeps repeating and coming back in different forms and ways. In the specific example of Korean colonial period, Japanese dominated Koreran by announcing regulations via treaties that are sneakily made for them to be lucrative.

In digital corporate society, big companies like Google are dominating the power structures through users by announcing highly specified generic terms that are used to obfuscate and conceal our labour to deceive users. In this way, users as a free laborer tend to "work" for free without knowing that they got "hired".

Therefore, by building out the infrastructure, it examines the modes of materializing digital labour to make it tangible and in doing so, create a physical awareness. It focuses on bringing out how contemporary digital forms of labour are made without concern, and which social, cultural and political implications lead us to work all the time, like in the period of Japan's colonising of Korea.

The main audience of this project would start with millenials, like myself, to the people of broader generations who are oblivious to their free digital labour. I want to emphasize the uninformed users, free labourers "signed" to their "working" contract without realizing the cruel resemblence of this with a slavery contract. I consider this project as an attempt to give awareness on how much we are oblivious to our labour, and how we, as uninformed digital workers, deal with the digital corporate society.

We tend to be oblivious because of free labour being pervasive in our lives, it is important to have a closer look at our online activities and where free labour has started. This will bring audiences to facilitate critical point of view on encouraging awareness and emphasize the importance of realization of free labour.

"They say its friendship; we say its unwaged work. With every like, chat, tag or poke our subjectivity turns them a profit. They call it sharing. We call it stealing" (Ptak 2013).

How do you plan to make it?

Labour Experiment #1: visualizing my Facebook data.
Labour Experiment #2: Tracking mouse movement on web.
Labour Experiment #3: Making a forceful working contract with Google's Terms of Conditions.

My first attempt is to investigate what is considered to be work, where our free labour begins, and how much we work, for whom. In order to answer these questions, I have been developing different prototypes that will allow me contextualize the topic.

In my thesis, I'm writing on the Korean perspective on digital colonialism, therefore a historical research will be conducted in parallel with prototyping to make a relation between the whole transformation of free labour in the context of South Korean history, to Korea's digital platforms.

In parallel with researching a historical background of colonialism, I started investigating how our labour extraction happens. So, I gathered 9 years of my personal data from Facebook to see what became free labour, and how using Facebook could be considered as labour exploitation, by visualizing this data in graphic elements. In doing so, I materialized my labour, and got to see how much I worked to create the personal data. During this experiment, I wondered, through what digital activities did I perform labour? Next, I have written several scripts that can track mouse movement; such as scrolling and clicking to observe what digital activity, as free work, we performed, and how that is considered as a cultural phenomenon, but not as work.

Based on these experiments, I began to think of why a work-for-free culture occurs and where it starts from. So next, I intend to gather 'Terms of Service' (ToS) agreements from several large Korean company websites, and analyze the policy texts to see how they might be manipulating us, as digital workers, to sneakily make us work while "enjoying" their website. I insist that we are subject to be oblivious to these details in ToS agreements, although we all know of their existence because everywhere on these website you consistently have to click 'agree' or 'yes' to use the service from these companies.

Therefore, I am determined to (1) analyze the text on ToS by meticulously dissecting the language used, to (2) discover corporate language itself as a vernacular and compare it with that of a past colonial era, and (3) do an experiment on making ToS as a slavery working contract by changing the words and removing all the layers of "polite" language that is used to obfuscate and conceal our labour.

In this case, dissection is very important because of its obfuscation of language. Usually ToS are made with polite and generic language to deceive users. By using these general terms, those big companies try to wash their hands of responsibility and disclaim their liability to back up themselves, including Google. Similarly to the tone of ToS, the terminology in Japan-Korea treaties are phrased in an equivocally circuitous manner. Therefore, vernaculars used in English ToS, which has similarities to the colonial past of Korea will be discovered by analyzing the words that were used during this period.

Seeing ToS as slavery contracts is urgent, because it is apparent that companies are deliberately "hiring" users to let them join the forcefully produced labour farm. Although it’s no secret Internet giants like Google collect your data when you visit their sites, we should realize where it starts from, because that's where we have agreed to a free labour contract. I'm planning to do experiments through different platforms, because free labour relies on the different content and services that are produced by workers who use diverse platforms.

Why do you want to make it? And relation to a larger context

Because it comes from my personal experience: My personal experience on the Internet has become a huge motivation on this project. When I was young, the Internet seemed a simple way to join a cyber-club, search for a unknown term, share photos and videos, and express a personal lifestyle. Since then, I have acknowledged that I now rely much more on technology than before. I share my personal life much more than before: from sharing daily life on social media, checking what my friends are up to via Instagram, clicking 'accept' buttons on privacy settings, being faced with a constant stream of Internet advertisements, to keeping a diary on my private account on social media. Doing this activity, for me, is as natural as breathing, since it is prevalent in all the online and socially-oriented platforms.

Because the Internet is deeply pervasive in our digital lives, I have noticed the chance of using the Internet seems to be gradually increasing, in proportion to an increased chance of disregard toward caring about our data and digital labour. Consequently, we have become blind to what's happening and we tend to ignore it. However, this shouldn't be neglected, because it seems to be an extension of the past; what is happening in the digital era is inherited from the colonial era. What products are being exploited, where does it come from, what profit does it generated and why? It is necessary to re-think the consequences of Internet as a coercive tool, which generates a new way of producing capital with a range of different values.

To describe in a larger context, the creation of our data to be used as a commodity on the web constitutes value that creates profit. People who habitually use the Internet, often do so with the intention of making profit for themselves. It makes us continually work by agreeing to a deceptive contract through the interface settings. (Affordance interface) There is a digital hierarchy and a kind of digital "military governance" (similar to in the Japanese occupation of Korea) that forces us to work.

To conclude, for me this topic opens up a potential to change the perspective on being an Internet user, a digital worker, or a cyber-proletariat. As an "oblivious millennial", I would like to change my views on looking at the web, and criticize how much we are unintentionally working when creating our digital "self", to produce data.

Relation to previous practice

The instruction of revealing hidden labours when producing physical book to digital one.

My interest has been slowly building since Special Issue 8: The Network We (de)Served, where I explored the subject of dependency in network infrastructures, including that of decentralized networks. The idea of dependency on the web inspired me to think of what networked human activity means, how much independence we get as Internet users when it comes to creating our own data, how that becomes free labour that creates commodities, how is data being used/exploited by third parties, and what value it produces.

In relation to Special Issue 9: The Library Is Open, I delved into hidden labour in a pirate library, and how labour tends to be invisible when a medium is transformed from digital to physical, or vice-versa. With this interest, and with my fellow students I organised a workshop called 'Blurry Boundaries', examining the relation between digital and physical books and highlighted the amount of labour involved. It revealed invisible processes, and the politics of digital librarianship. By doing so, we created simple scripts that facilitated revealing hidden labour that is being produced without noticing it. This way to make usually hidden labour visible brought me to explore human social activities on digital platforms that create different forms of labour. Based on the previous research, the following questions are made: What contemporary forms of digital labour exist? Through that, what counter-strategies of resistance are possible as a digital "worker"?

Through my previous practice, I concluded that the topic of dependence/independence in the context of digital platforms, and thinking about free digital labour is an interesting topic to continue researching, and on which I want to build my graduation project.

What is your timetable?

October: I have been closely reading some books and annotating them, especially focused on how our data is colonized and appropriated for capitalism through which platform and medium, where it started, and what position we are taking, and how we are dealing with it. Besides that, I have been taking a reading sessions on producing culture and history for the digital economy, how information technology facillitates dominating everything from expanding to online surveillance, and how this brings us to work for free in digital platform. For prototyping, I have been building some small hackpacts, such as my Facebook data visualizaition in D3, building a mouse tracker in the web, and keylogger.

November & December: For protytpying, I intend to keep reseaching and experimenting on how free digital labour is made, why, through what interfaces and platform, how I can visualize them into what medium. Especially, delving into terms and conditions policy setting in order to have an understanding of how they're manpulating us, as a digital worker, to sneakily make us working while "enjoying" their website. Continuously, keeping doing small labour publishing tool-making experiments and think about how I want to publish the labour publishing infrastructure will be conducted. For reading, I will focus on collecting and annotating materials to write my first chapter, by doing it I can ground my research and topic minutely.

January: Based on the first assessment, my direction and prototyping will be planned. I will keep gathering references and anotating based on references to slowly work on the second & third chapters of my thesis. For prototyping, keep thinking about how I want to publish the labour publishing infrastructure.

February & March: I will keep focusing on thinking, writing, making. Make my brain and body busy. Thesis has to have a concrete argument, prototpying experiments should be formed in a one frame in order to build a labour publishing infrastructure. At the end of month, I want to finish my first rough-draft of thesis, so I have time to re-read and edit.

April & May: I expect to finish my thesis and delivery. In the meantime, I want to keep working on my prototyping.

June & July: I will finish the graduation project, prepare the exhibition, and help each other on the publication and exhibition setting up.

Who can help you and how?

Lidia Pereira, who has been working on a project 'pervasive labour union' which offers a low-barrier entry level for contributors wishing to express their views on corporate social networking labour, but also a low-barrier entry level for those wishing to become acquainted with these debates. I am contacting and discussing on the topic of free digital labour.

Silvio Lorusso, a designer/researcher recently published a book ENTREPRECARIAT: Everyone Is an Entrepreneur. Nobody Is Safe. His work has a close relation to my project. I would like to meet up with him intruducing my project and hear from his critical point of view.

Sebastian Schmieg, who is interested in the ways networked technologies shape online and offline realities. In particular, his practice reflects on humans as software extensions which is directly connected to my graduation project. I would like to have email conversation or Skype with him discussing on the specific question on the blurry boundary between labour and leisure on digital platform.

Michael Murtaugh, an independent computer programmer, who introduced me D3 to explore the possibility of visualizing datas, will help me to materialize this topic in order to publish labour. With him, I can get some technical supports on my protyping experiments.

Marloes de Valk, who has become my new thesis advisor. She is a software artist and writer who has experiences on articles on Free/Libre/Open Source Software, free culture, art and technology. I believe she can supervise related my topic of free digital labour in the context of data colonialism.

André Castro, who is is a media artist, has many experiences in different forms of publishing projects such as Hybrid Publishing Resources, Mondothèque: A Radiated Book, and INC Publications. I can discuss on how to build a labour-publishing infrastructure.

...more and more including XPUB mates.


Scholz, T. (2013) The Internet as Playground and Factory. chapter 2: Free Labor by Tiziana Terranova.

Couldry, N. (2019) The Costs of Connection: How Data Is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism.

Ursula, H. (2014) Labour in the Global Digital Economy - The Cybertariat Comes of Age

Srnicek, N. (2017) Platform Capitalism

Lovink, G. Rasch, M. (2013) Unlike Us Reader — Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives-Institute of Network Cultures

Dyer-Witheford, N. (2015) Cyber-Proletariat — Global Labour in the Digital Vortex

Marx, K. (1939) From the Grundrisse (pp. 690 - 712) (automatic system of machinery):

Zuboff, S. (2019) The age of surveillance capitalism: the fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. First edition. New York: PublicAffairs.

Lorusso, S. (2019) Entreprecariat: everyone is an entrepreneur nobody is safe. First edition. Onomatopee.

Data Workers - Algolit(n.d.). Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2019).

Exposing the Invisible(n.d.). Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2019).

Opinion | Jaron Lanier Fixes the Internet - The New York Times (n.d.). Available at: (Accessed: 14 November 2019).