Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Are we programmed individuals?

I think so much of daily life is overtaken by the desire to produce and the desire to be as efficient as possible. These values are so engrained in North American culture. We all have schedules and deadlines, and we freak out when things don't get done within a specific time frame. We're expected to go through institutions like school and university, so that we can add more value to our existence, so that we can get a job and work and contribute to the advancement of society, so that north america continues to be the biggest and the best.

Arvidsson's aritcle, "On the Prehistory of the Panoptic Sort" examines how surveillance is a key component of contemporary capitalist society, and how it has come to the point where "life itself comes to generate value"(458). As Arvidsson brings up the idea thatliving in a commercialized and surveilled society entails that individuals are producing data doubles, it is easy to understand how people`s lives can be commodified. When I think about my activities on social networks and websites and how so many companies generate value based off of the data I produce simply when I`m browsing and entertaining myself, I think it's unfair. But that is our reality. It is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to escape commodification as the technology we use on a daily basis is constantly monitoring us.

While Arvidsson claims that life in all its walks is constituted as productive labour, I disagree
that the commodification of individuals is currently this extreme - nevertheless, the trends are pointing us in that direction in the near future. It's a scary thought to refer to us as "programmed individuals" - but when I think about it, how do I know that my tastes and activities are my own? How do I know that I visited a website for my own interest, and not because of some advertisement I saw? How do I know that I purchased a new shirt because I really wanted it and not because I was told that I wanted it. Today, advertisements are incorporated into life to the point where they are ubiquitous and consumers no longer make choices on their own. I think the blurring of individuals' desires with companies' desires is becoming more common as a result of the increase in technologies we use on a daily basis and of course, the data mining and surveillance that occurs along with that. Companies don't need to guess at consumer wants and trends; instead, they can monitor data doubles, predict what the individuals will want, and advertise accordingly.

The more technology we use, the more information we give away as we produce data doubles for ourselves and allow increasing access to our information. Capitalism is the driving force, but what can we do to escape it? If we're not connected, if we're not online, our social lives and communication reaches are extremely limited. There is a price to pay, a consequence, if we opt out of participating.

In this week's seminar presentation, Alicia brought up the example of Odesk in relation to the way that new technologies can be used to increase the surveillance of an employee's behavior, thus increasing control of the employer. As discussed in class, Odesk is undoubtedly modelled after scientific management and capitalist values because through surveillance, Odesk promises to increase the efficiency of employees and eliminate slacking or multitasking. Interestingly, I can relate to Odesk because I work remotely for the Federal Government. I am not under constant sureillance, as an individual with Odesk would be, but the work that I produce is monitored to ensure that I am actually working. The fact that my productivity is monitored and measured, pressures me to be more efficient in my work than if I were working physically in my government office. When I am physically at the office, my presence matters more to my boss than my productivity. I find it interesting to contrast my experience with the same job in both physical and online environments, because it shows how the method of surveillance affects the amount of control in the relationship.This difference highlights how control is strengthened in data-based environments, where all of a person's actions are recorded and monitored.

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