INVISIBLE LABOR FOR DATA: INSTITUTIONS, INFRASTRUCTURE, AND VIRTUAL SPACE
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Americans are accustomed to a wide range of data collection in their lives: census, polls, surveys, user registrations, and disclosure forms. When logging onto the Internet, users’ actions are being tracked everywhere: clicking, typing, tapping, swiping, searching, and placing orders. All of this data is stored to create data-driven profiles of each user. Social network sites, furthermore, set the voluntarily sharing of personal data as the default mode of engagement. But people’s time and energy devoted to creating this massive amount of data, on paper and online, are taken for granted. Few people would consider their time and energy spent on data production as labor. Even if some people do acknowledge their labor for data, they believe it is accessory to the activities at hand. In the face of pervasive data collection and the rising time spent on screens, why do people keep ignoring their labor for data? How has labor for data been become invisible, as something that is disregarded by many users? What does invisible labor for data imply for everyday cultural practices in the United States? Invisible Labor for Data addresses these questions. I argue that three intertwined forces contribute to framing data production as being void of labor: data production institutions throughout history, the Internet’s technological infrastructure (especially with the implementation of algorithms), and the multiplication of virtual spaces. There is a common tendency in the framework of human interactions with computers to deprive data and bodies of their materiality. My Introduction and Chapter 1 offer theoretical interventions by reinstating embodied materiality and redefining labor for data as an ongoing process. The middle Chapters present case studies explaining how labor for data is pushed to the margin of the narratives about data production. I focus on a nationwide debate in the 1960s on whether the U.S. should build a databank, contemporary Big Data practices in the data broker and the Internet industries, and the group of people who are hired to produce data for other people’s avatars in the virtual games. I conclude with a discussion on how the new development of crowdsourcing projects may usher in the new chapter in exploiting invisible and discounted labor for data.