Why Bolivia matters to the future of digital economies (plus three talks and one new book!)

It’s been a few months in the making, and now it’s happening: I’ll be in Bolivia to deliver a few talks, promote my new book in Spanish, meet a bunch of interesting people, and travel into the future of digital economies in the world’s largest salt flats (skip to the end of this post to know more about this specific point).

Bolivia is an effervescent nation that has embarked in an ambitious plan for digital transition, with, among many other things, the recently approved “law of digital citizenship” (ley de ciudadanía digital) and the creation of governmental bodies devoted to the implementation of data-related and digital technology-enhanced policies, such as the AGETIC (Agencia de Gobierno Electrónico y Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación) and the ADSIB (Agencia para el Desarrollo de la Sociedad de la Información). Also, there are lively cultural debates, grassroots projects, hackerspaces, tech hubs, independent ISPs, hackatons, game jams, etc. going on in the major cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Potosì.

What I’ll be doing in Bolivia? I’ll discuss collective ownership of data and how to overcome digital labor by adopting suma irnakaña (which, in aymara language, means “knowing how to work”) with students, academics, activists, and policymakers. Here’s the schedule so far (click to enlarge):



Tue, July 10, 2018,
Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA)
Auditorio de la carrera de sociología
Piso 2, Edificio René Zavaleta
La Paz



Tue, July 10, 2018,
Centro cultural Simon I. Patiño
Potosi 1450



Wed, July 11, 2018,
Hall de la Vicepresidencia del Estado
calle Mercado,
esquina Ayacucho
La Paz

These conferences will also allow me to say a few words about my new book, which is actually an anthology of articles and chapters that I’ve published in the last decade, plus an unpublished essay about artificial intelligence and micro-work. It is also my first book published in Spanish EVER, so I’m pretty excited. The title is Trabajo, conocimiento y vigilancia. 5 ensayos sobre tecnología (“Work, Knowledge, and Surveillance. Five essays on technology”) and it has been edited by Khantuta Muruchi, to whom goes my gratitude.

The chapters featured in this book are: A History of Virulence: The Body and Computer Culture in the 1980s (initially published in the journal Body & Society, 2010); The Wikipedian, the academic, and the vandal, (initially published in the book “Wikipédia, objet scientifique non identifié”, 2015); Four Theses on Digital Mass Surveillance and the Negotiation Of Privacy (initially presented at the 8th Annual Privacy Law Scholar Congress, Berkeley, USA, 2015); Is There a Global Digital Labor Culture? Marginalization of work, global inequalities, and coloniality (initially presented at the 2nd symposium of the PARGC, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, 2016);  Artificial Intelligence: will humans replace robots? (unpublished).

What else… I’ll be travelling to the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt desert and the host of one of the biggest plants for the processing of lithium. Seems pretty remote from my topics, doesn’t it? And yet it has to a lot to do with the continuities between material and immaterial economies. In an essay published in 2016 in the Monthly Review, Christian Fuchs argued that present-day international division of digital labor involves “human subjects using technologies of labor on objects of labor” produced by assembly workers building digital equipments using natural resources as inputs. Thus, “the very foundation of global digital labor” is the extraction and processing of minerals.

In particular, recent researches have highlighted the importance of Rare earth elements (REE) and critical metals in the energy transition. And this is where countries like Bolivia come into play. Such minerals are crucial parts of the digital transformation that is at the heart of my research activity. In particular, lithium impacts both automation and digital labor. Imagine a 100% electric vehicle world: lithium demand would multiply by thirty to propell the cars. When it comes to mobile phones batteries, lithium is of capital importance: users worldwide are expected to exceed five billion by next year, thus lithium’s demand is expected to increase +2898% according to a recent UBS estimate. To start looking into how REE mining influences information production, I decided to visit the plantas de industrialización de litio in the Salar de Uyuni (which, incidentally, looks pretty lunar this time of the year, with temperatures plummeting to -10 at night…).

So whish me good luck and buen viaje and stay tuned for more info from South America.