Commenting on Ross’s argument, that digital media gives us a cheapened or discounted labor, many of you noted the different feelings that come with “no collar” work or with labor that can be done anywhere, requiring so little concentration that the word “labor” hardly seems to qualify. Others noted how uneven the playing field has become, when, for example, those who can afford to buy unpaid internships in hopes that these opportunities will lead to fruitful employment later in life. Meanwhile those less fortunate are forced into “precarious work,” or a marketplace for work that doesn’t come with the same regulations afforded to standardized forms of employment. Still others of you focused on the implications of machines taking over tasks that people were once paid to do, noting how the age of “self-service” is cheapening labor by making production part of the process of consumption.
Relative to all these issues are questions about whether and how technology contributes to the production of capital. Understanding Ross’s perspective on this issue requires we focus on his reading of Marx. He stresses that “cheapened” labor should be understood alongside Marx’s discussion of “living labor” and “dead labor.” In Capital Vol. 1, (1867:217), Marx notes how the production of capital involves “dead labor,” or a labor that is already embodied in the materials used to produce a new commodity. For Marx (and I think for Ross too) technology cannot directly produce value. Instead it alters the social conditions of human labor, on which Marx’s labor theory of value is based. We should keep this point in mind as we move through Scholz’s edited volume, as so many of these essays return to this point, to ask: what is the relationship of digital technology to the wealth that is produced in our contemporary political economy?