Dans le magazine socialiste américain Jacobin, Miranda Hall décrit l’impact des plateformes de micro-travail au Moyen Orient. En discutant les implications en termes de pérennisation de dynamiques coloniales, elle référence ma propre recherche sur le “decolonial turn” des études sur digital labor (parue dans l’International Journal of Communication).
Microwork, key to the neoliberal development schemes targeted at the Middle East, is best exemplified by Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” labor platform. As David Golumbia wrote in Jacobin in 2015,
[Mechanical Turk’s] name is . . . a revealing reference to the chess-playing automatons of eighteenth-century Europe, a parlor trick concealing small human beings who actually did the work purportedly done by machines. As historian Ahyan Aytes notes, these automatons were dressed in “Oriental” garb in part because everyone to the East of Europe was understood to be “docile” and “soulless.” MTurk allows employers to design tasks that require large amounts of data entry and analysis that, for whatever reason, currently remain more efficiently or more accurately done by human beings than by computers.
Microwork portals harness virtual crowds to organize playlists of music tag videos and images, write, and translate or transcribe short texts; and, in doing so, to train artificial intelligence software.
Microwork is just one part of a broader spectrum of digital labor that ranges from on-demand services like Uber to the extraction of profitable data from our casual Facebook, Twitter, and instagram updates. What sociologist Antonio Casilli represents as “a continuum of unpaid, micropaid, and poorly paid ‘taskified’ human activities” means that work can no longer be easily distinguished from leisure time. Because of this, it’s hard to talk about exploitation, a word usually associated with industrial labor’s sweatshop conditions, in relation to digital labor. Its also hard to reconcile people not always feeling like these activities are work with their objective creation of a great deal of economic value.