Michael Braverman portfolio / personal site

Prototype III. Worker Waltz

Fig.4: A screenshot of Worker Waltz.

Worker Waltz marks a turning point in the direction that my thesis project undertook. In this prototype (Fig.4), I started experimenting with the 3D game prototyping platform Unity. In this prototype I attempted to fease together the concepts that I explored in Data$ein Economy and incorporate them into realm of the absurd and irony. The scene consists of three workers who have Facebook and Amazon logos imprinted onto them. The three worker then dance resembling a Waltz within a boxed world at the sides of which there are two giant smiling portraits of Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. All this happens as a the composition The Blue Danube by the Austrian music composer Johann Strauss II plays in the background.

The absurdity of this experiment, attempted to put in context and highlight the social relations of a capital-driven society. Although historically, technology and ways of life have found effective ways through which this reality gets obfuscated, the reality of class exploitation nevertheless persists as inequality in developed countries like US grows to ever increasing proportions [^Tritch, 2016]. As Marx very well explained in his economic and social theories, the key aspects of a capitalist society is that there are two classes: those who produce the commodities (wage-workers, slaves, etc.), and those who own the means by which these commodities are produced — i.e. the ‘capitalists’, ‘ruling class’, ‘master’, etc. — who own the means of production (factories, machines, etc.). Those who own these means of production, dictate the manner in which the process of exploitation occurs, which serves a substantial reason for explaining why we see Bezos and Zuckerberg smiling more often than frowning.

However, the most interesting philosophical/metaphysical aspect of this process that I wanted to tie to my project; is the way in which human labour becomes reduced to a commodity form. This form of metaphysical devaluation and reductive simplification of a process of the living body — namely, of human labor — is what transforms humans into mere bodies for providing labor-power. Users of tools and technology are expected to provide the owners of digital capital with something monotonous and uniform — a certain quantity of objectified, impersonal form of labor and data 1.

The transition from exploiting human labor into human data demonstrates how the advances of technology allowed for a more ‘humane’ form of expropriation of humans, but which still fundamentally remains expropriation in concept. In the process of this expropriation, his/her belongings are reduced to a form of a uniform sellable commodity, which is mostly done to the advantage of those who own the means of extracting this data. For example, Facebook, which owns the means of extracting behavioral data of 2 billion of its users that it can lease and sell to advertisers as a marketable commodity. This not only reduces certain aspects of human existence to mechanistic quantities and numbers, but also in a certain sense, makes Facebook an exploiter of biological bodies — albeit, not by enforcing labor of course, but in much more subtle, but nevertheless significant ways. At an age where data and intellectual property, in many cases, is deemed as an equivalent of personal property; Facebook essentially steals and exploits personal data that belongs to the bodies of its users. The document that ensures the legality of this appropriation is a user agreement that the user signs before using a digital service like Facebook.

  1. Habermas, 1989