User:Bohye Woo/4th Thesis outline

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Free labour in the context of data colonialism


What has been inherited in Korean working culture from Japanese colonialism, and how has this been transformed to a digital space? Through unpacking the inherited digital colonialism, free labour is produced — how can we make it palpable?


Background + Thesis statement

According to The Korea Herald, S. Koreans are known to be among the World's worst workaholics, ranking second in the OECD in terms of working hours in 2014. Many people work over-hours in the evening or even till early in the morning without getting properly considered to be paid. This is happening because of S. Korea's age hierarchy, work productivity, and forceful culture that is inherited from the early 20th century where S. Korea was colonized by Japan.(The Korean Herald, 2015)

As a Millennial, who was born and raised with digital technology in S. Korea, I see the culture of working hard is happening in the digital platform too. Since my parents bought a big bulky computer with a Window 98 installed, I started having a basic but hardcore computer course where I learned how to type keyboard and search on the web at school. As time goes by, the Internet has become an easiest platform to join, search, play and became a place of comfort. Eventually, Internet experiences such as scrolling down the Internet, joining a community by creating an account, uploading photos on online community, cilcking 'accept' button on privacy policy settings, facing with Internet advertisements come as naturally to me as breathing.

However it seems that as the possibilities of technology increase, so does our digital workability on it. The Internet become our 24/7 workplace, and we became a digital worker from what we carried out because the above-mentioned activities with the help of human labour creates new products that generate different range of values. It become sellable sources in which we voluntarily worked by providing data in the form of labour. Eventually, those activities are considered to be a work that is invisible, appropriated, copied, uncared, influenced, piggybacked, borrowed, leaked, silenced, reproduced and exploited.

What is considered to be a free work? Did we agree on this work? Where has our contract been made? Are we a digital volunteer, a worker, a proletariat or a slave? As a Millennial generation, how should we look at free digital labour in the specific context of colonial era in S. Korea? What has been inherited in Korean working culture from Japanese colonialism, and how has this been transformed to a digital space? Through unpacking, inherited digital colonialism arises and digital free labour is produced — how can we create a sense of urgency?

  • I also want to mention a general labour exploitation in digital and saying I'm focusing on only hidden labour in data colonialism on this thesis.


Chapter 1: How did free labour arise in its cultural context?

1. Point A: South Korean labour — they work a lot

  • Koreans work a lot: According to The Korea Herald, S. Koreans are known to be among the World's worst workaholics, ranking second in the OECD in terms of working hours in 2014. (The Korean Herald, 2015) Male workers in manufacturing industry are allowed 24.10 overtime work hours while non-manufacturing workers get 10.90 hours. Public sector can work 11.06 hours overtime, while private sector workers are allowed 16.06 hours. (Bae, 2014)
  • 1st reference for working overtime in S. Korea: A Korean concept of human affection, in Korean '정(jeong)' in Korea where people share product/work for free.

2. Point B: Korean work ethics is all about age hierarchy, work productivity, and forceful culture.

  • Age hierarchy: In general, Korean society is based on age hierarchy that older people get more respect, money and pretty much get their way. The same is true when it comes to the work environment. Age matters more than skill (however this is slowly changing). If you are younger, you are considered the lowest in the pecking order. Everyone follows the oldest person, who is usually the top dog. Hence it hinders productivity.(Hogan, 2017)
  • Forceful working culture: South Korea’s work culture is notorious for its rigid hierarchy, forceful, demand for obedience and loyalty, and work hours which sometimes lead employees to gwarosa — death by overworking.(Park, 2017)
  • Work productivity': Respecting a strict hierarchy is seen as a way to complete tasks more quickly, but critics say it leads to inefficiency at work by hindering younger employees from directly contributing to the achievements of a business.(Shin, 2018) (a) A Korean concept of '노동요(work song)': a piece of music/song work sing while conducting a task to make work effective. (b) Free labour as a model of volunteerism — A Korean concept of free labour called '품앗이(Pumasi)', a traditional form of communal labor in Korean agricultural society.

3. Point C: Over-working hour culture came from the Japanese colonial times as well as military regime period.
To understand why there is S. Korean free labours culture, we need to go back to the history of S. Korea in the early 20th century.

  • Relation to the Japanese colonial times: A culture of hierarchy and high pressure to work long hours is coming from the uniquely hierarchy-driven work culture that was influenced by the Japanese work values during the colonial period in the early 20th century. (a)There is a concept of 'Myeol-Sa-Bong-Gong(멸사봉공)' as a vestige of Japanese imperialism which means "destroy your personal life and devote yourself for the betterment of your community". The concept encouraged people to safrifice their personal life for the companies they worked for, and such a life was viewed as ideal and even honorable. Today's work culture in S. Korea certainly has traits that were influenced by this concept. (The Korean Herald, 2015) (There are more references such as forceful labour during the colonial era, how their labour was being used, how much they actually worked per day.) (b) During the occupation, Japan took over Korea’s labor and land. Nearly 100,000 Japanese families settled in Korea with land they had been given; they chopped down trees by the millions and planted non-native species, transforming a familiar landscape into something many Koreans didn’t recognize.
  • Relation to the military regime period: It also came from the military-driven culture that dominated S. Korea under the authoritarian governments of the 60s and 70s. (The Korean Herald, 2015) Since the establishment of the South Korean state in 1948, twelve people have served nineteen terms as president of South Korea. Especially the second president of S. Korea named Park Chung-hee, who followed dictatorship for 16 years (1963 ~ 1979). He was a Japanese collaborator and one-time communist who cynically engineered a path to the top. He was a sinister general who seized power via coup. He suppressed democratic institutions, wielded security services to suppress human rights and altered the constitution to maintain power. (There will be more references such as, how he performed his dictatorship when it comes to using labours.)

4. Chapter 1 Conclusion:
Korean working culture is a toxic legacy of colonialism and militarism from the early 20th century which brought the concept of free labour. This is a remnant of Japanese colonialism and military dictatorship that permeated in our skin, and it persisted for a long time.

Chapter 2: The extend of the problem, why we need to highlight it?

In chapter 1, I explained what is over-hour working(free labour) culture in S. Korea, where does it originate from by refering Japanese colonial times and Korean military regime in the early 20th centry. In this chapter, I will analyze how the specific working culture has translated into free digital labour culture by comparing and diverging into some examples. Next, I will take a closer look at how much free labour is pervasively absorbed in our daily lives. Consequently what indirect outgrowth is produced in the form of capital?

1. Point A: I see I see what you can't see (invisibility of digital labour)

  • The differences between traditional labour and digital labour: The aforementioned concept of free labour in S. Korean culture is a traditional form of labour. This traditional sense of working would be clearly tangible and visible as you may noticed from the chapter 1. If you are working in a shoe factory, the factory is a physical place. You can see the factory, workers, machines, and products. And, there is also agreements on who owns the production which would be a company. In this way, the labour is distinctly explicit on who owns what's produced. However, in digital form of labour, any interaction you have on the Internet tend to be very implicit and invisible. There are no consents on who own the means of production although it can be easily quantified which becomes a data. The data is intangible, and it doesn't belong to you even though it is what you produced. The involvement of this production is very complex, From a digital worker who produces data, to the means of production, to a third party who owns the production without consent, to an advertisment agency who paid for the product to the third party. The eco-system of the Internet is somehow contradictory. The way how labour is being used, a product, and a work itself has different ways and means between traditional and digital sense. Eventually, we become a product and commodity. (Example: We don't pay for using social media. However the information that's gathered from using it, become to sell to advertisement.)
  • Immaterial labour: It is showned that the formation of work has been changed within postindustrial society. (Terranova, 2013) In the digital society, we work by producing resources, in this case, data. This data is generated in a diverse way from human digital activities such as uploading your files, photos, videos through social media or writing some articles about a specific topics on the Internet and so on. Those activities create "cultural contents" such as posts, clicks, likes, follows and so on. And they are intangible and hard to materialize that it tend to be considered as an undetermined labour. The term immaterial is pervasive in materiality. For example, those immaterial labours are based on materials such as computer, keyboard and mouse and so on. They need material bases to exist, however, those cultural contents produced from the materials, are immaterial. Because of its undeterminedness, the production of cultural content as commodity, these cultural contents are not recognized as "work".)
  • More examples will come: Korean online culture behavior where everybody is working for free, How people interect in social media and in a culture where they're expected to work long hours.

2. Point B: It isn't none of my business, it is my business

  • Pervasiveness & indifference: We are subject to be oblivious. We're highly interconnected with the Internet, when you wake up till sleep you're on phone, swipting, clicking, watching or in another digital devices. You are more and more dependend on it, and it's unavoidable. it's pervasive in our daily lives. According to the survey, internet users are now spending an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes per day on social networking and messaging platforms. This is only using social medias. The rest of time, we search, scroll, click, watch, upload... (Digitized information as an easily created knowledge/capital - accepting cookie settings.) Much of today's data appropriations are not seen in daily life as appropiriation at all but as part of everyday business practice. (Couldry, 2019. 18p) Free labour is conflated within technology capitalizing on this grey area.
  • Internet as a 24/7 working office: It can be seen as bonded labour/Indentured labour/contracted labour because you give up your passport, ID, information. You're on the contract of being extracted your products by working for those big companies. Examples be like: we agreed on 'working' for social media by clicking 'agree' terms on check box before making a new account.
  • How does Korean search engine site earns money and makes us work(Centralized working platform/structure): There is a S. Korean online platform called 'Naver' operated by a big company Naver Corporation. It's a centralized online platform, where blogging, posting, selling, reading, searching, broadcasting is possible. In this platform, more than 85% of S. Korean enrolled as a user, starting page on their default browser. Naver is also frequently referred to as 'the Google of South Korea' (Kim, 2013) In a more broad sense, Google, Spotify, YouTube, Instagram can be mentioned here.
  • Other examples with Instagram/ web/ searching engine

3. Point C: The emergence of digital colonialism

  • Digital labour is technopolitically bounded: The social structure keeps changing, but idea of colonialism that is being inherited is showing to the digital world in a different form and structure. It's happening not only in Korean online culture, but everywhere in a slightly different form. If historical colonialism expanded by appropriating for exploitation geographical territory and the resources that territorial conquest could bring, data colonialism expands by appropriating for exploitation ever more layers of human life itself.(Couldry, 2019) In the past, colonialism was geographically bounded, like the specific case of the Korean colonial times. However, Digital Colonialism is beyond the geograchical bound. Now it is human bounded, in a bigger scale, it's technopolitically bounded. Therefore free labour culture is happening not by citizenship, but by netizenship. Through web, we are taking advantage of our netizenship each other by infringing our online right. examples like: big company's data exploitation)
  • How Korean colonial labour is transfered into digital:
  1. Economical domination: Economic and social organization dominated by major colonial powers in Korean colonialism: In the web, people who provide the platform owns major colonial powers. Little further into details, In social media, major colonial powers belong to social medias who owns our datas in social platforms.
  2. Appropriation of human life: Korean historical colonialism appropriated territories and bodies through extreme physical violence = Digital coloniallism appropriated the web(social medias) and human through our information, data, labour, time and life. Raw material = our data, traditional form of labour = digital form of labour
  3. Hierarchy: There was a cultural hierarchy that made working a lot in the past. Now 'digital hierarchy' is inherited from the Korean colonial times. The digital hierarchy deceives us to, for examples, infinite scrolling, agreeing terms, cookies, Yes and No button. (persuasive design - webdesign choice)
  4. Digital military governance: During the dictatorship from the president Park, he manipulated medias and people. Now with 'Attention economy': apps are designed with the explicit purpose of making users stay on them. Example: Tremendous amount of people are using YouTube in Korea, brodcasting their own channel, watching, and commenting on videos. Once you get in the website, overwhelming amount of videos are suggested, sometimes with an auto-play function, automatically playing the next suggested video... This way we're in a way forcefully watching videos while our data has been being produced. (Netslaves, Digital sweatshop)

4. Point D: What values does free labour produces? Digital value and capital as part of a new economy. comparing with the Korean colonial era, what did they produce and what profit did they get from forceful labour.

  • Economic capital: In the past, Japan used Korean labour to forcefully push them to work, creating resources, railway business. In the digital platform, big companies earn monetary value by stealing data(monetize that data (usually through advertising. Google’s real customers are advertisers – who have no choice but to spend their money with Google if they want to place ads alongside the vast majority of searches conducted online. (Fair Search, 2011)) — Data exploitation on the Internet as a colonial perspective: allegedly infringed labour — whose traces had suddenly become visible.(The costs of connection p.3)
  • Social, emotional, and enternainment capital: This capitals are a new form of value that's implicitly produced from digital free labour. Digital platform become an unintended/unexpected workplace, and this social currency is a new social form of assets. It is created by gaining likes, commenting, sharing posts in social media, or by uploading personal stories and photos, Google maps review and restaurant reviews in the Website. This form of capital is considered to be produced while playing as well. When using social media, you don't consider as work, rather enjoying and fun leisure activity. (playbour creates a data commodity. example would be: YouTubers, mukbang & pro gamers as examples of the promise of lucrative entertainment capital)

Chapter 3: How we make free labour visible?

In the chapter 2, I delved into analyzation on how specific Korean working cultue has translated into free labour in digital platform, took a closer look at its pervasiveness in our daily lives, observed what values are produced. We notice that the Internet has a colonialistic exploitation. There are small number of enormous companies control or at least mediate much of the Internet in practice. (Richard Hendricks, 2019) Like Naver(A Korean Google), Melon(The biggiest Korean music streaming site, like Spotify), they control the market for internet access have the technical capability to control us, let us working. Although it’s no secret internet giants like Google collect your data when you visit their sites, everyone is indifferent on hard working and being a netslaves. We're aware of this, but we are still in this platform 24/7. Nobody is forcing us to work, but we're still voluntarily producing our own products. Therefore how can we, as a self-aware digital worker, behave or involve on our own autonomy, labour, work we do, product we produce? Can we make the labour explicitly visible that everyone can regulate themselves? To fight with these platform, what can we do within the system? This chapter will sketch out examples and suggestions on what we can do.

1. Point A: We don't need our autonomy, it's bullshit. We'll try to change from inside.

  • Using a decentralized platform or not using ceontralized system wouldn't be an optimal solution: it would not be a surprise to see social media users move towards more decentralized alternatives.(Lielacher, 2019) "If we could do it, we could build a completely decentralized version of our current internet," Hendricks says. "With no firewalls, no tolls, no government regulation, no spying. Information would be totally free in every sense of the word." In theory it's ideal, however, it's difficult where a small number of enormous companies control or at least mediate much of the Internet in practice. (Richard Hendricks, 2019) In addition, convincing people to use decentralized alternatives to Facebook and Twitter has proven to be a notoriously difficult problem. Getting people to use what amounts to a whole new version of the web could be even harder.
  • Post Maxist idea: The benefits of decentralized platforms include censorship-resistance, personal data, ownership, improved content curation, less/no ads, and new content monetization models.(Lielacher, 2019). However, desipte these obvious benefits, there are some difficulties on being in this network — hardship on building a community(social network). Majority of people join centralized network because it holds already many users and informations to share. Then, how can we still stay in the centralized network as it seems we do care more a social community building than autonomy?
  • Transparency and accountability: There are many internet browser extension on keeping our privacy and transparency. (1)Time tracker for facebook by Tim Coy: This extension tracks how much time you have wasted on facebook. (2) Ghostery – Privacy Ad Blocker, offered by: to block ads, stop trackers. (3)privacy-protecting feature: theTracking Blocker by The Tracking Blocker is a built-in extension which prevents invisible trackers from monitoring your online activity. (+ Quantified self, We should have data dignity: How to have data dignity?)

2. Point B: Forensicating the place of origin to find out the cause of the problem

  • However, will those given semi-utopian solution helps our labour visible? We should realize its provenance and where it starts from. Maybe also talk about the privacy settings and agreements as a starting point where our free labour is contracted. Making a new account on social media, searching platform, creating email accounts, signing up Youtube etc...
  • Cookie privacy policy terms: When did we consent to the free labour? When did we make a contract on my job and working hours? Anytime we're on a site using one its hidden services, those companies give itself permission to collect our data. Even if we've never agreed to their terms and conditions, their polities allow it to collect and store our data. It’s virtually impossible to avoid using company's services if we want to use the web—something the company deliberately obscures to hire people to join the forcefully produced labour farm. The agreements are made in a very sneaky way. Therefore we shouldn't deny the fact that we're bilnd on the way your contract is signed.
  • Google Surveillance Detector: It is a browser extention that shows you whenever Google is monitoring you online. Unlike Google’s services, this extension doesn’t save, collect, or report any data. In fact, 80% of all the sites you visit on the internet have Google services running in the background, collecting your data and sending it back to Google. However, it's not a secret anymore that those giant companies indirectly push you working, gathering the products we produced. What if we don't want to sit and just watch it happening? Those big companies claim that we can choose to stop working whenever we want. Google always said "Google is free". Contradictorily, Google is NOT free. The company took in almost $30 billion in revenue and kept nearly $18.9 billion in profits last year, almost all of it from advertising. (Fair search, 2011)


Clear conclusion needs to be made!