This game is rigged, man.”

I am going to try my hand at the occa­sion­al blog­ging again. And I have decid­ed to do this not at my tum­blr, but back here. It was fine to post things to Tum­blr occa­sion­al­ly, but I have start­ed to dis­like not hav­ing these notes on my own serv­er. And per­haps more impor­tant­ly, I start­ed to get real­ly annoyed by Tumblr’s lack of a func­tion­ing search. So, I’ve import­ed all the things I post­ed to Tum­blr over the past few years into this blog, and we’ll con­tin­ue where we left off.

In this first post of the new year, some things relat­ed to inequal­i­ty under late cap­i­tal­ism. To begin with a bit of video from Adam Cur­tis for Char­lie Brooker’s enjoy­able end-of-the-year review Wipe 2014.

I was point­ed to this by Hans de Zwart and on Twit­ter I respond­ed that the idea of non-lin­ear­i­ty reminds me of the ideas on war­fare devel­oped by John Boyd, which I am cur­rent­ly knee-deep in. And Boyd’s ideas of win­ning by decreas­ing mis­match­es between your mod­el of exter­nal real­i­ty and real­i­ty itself while increas­ing those mis­match­es for your oppo­nent in turn con­nects with James C. Scott’s con­cept of leg­i­bil­i­ty.

Mean­hwile, James Bri­dle has been chart­ing tech­no­log­i­cal infra­struc­tures of con­trol for The Nor, a project com­mis­sioned by the Hay­ward Gallery. The essays James has writ­ten on his chart­ing of sur­veil­lance cam­eras, radar and high-fre­quen­cy trad­ing infra­struc­ture are huge­ly enjoy­able reads because James has gone out there and done the leg­work. This isn’t idle the­o­ris­ing, these are ideas ground­ed in lived expe­ri­ence of today’s real­i­ty on the ground. While recount­ing his expe­ri­ences trac­ing these tech­no­log­i­cal infra­struc­tures, James makes many inter­est­ing con­nec­tions to lit­er­a­ture, as well as non-obvi­ous obser­va­tions about how these tech­nolo­gies relate to today’s social injus­tices. Long sto­ry short: you should go and read the lot of them.

Inequal­i­ty is engi­neered, and delib­er­ate. It is an arbi­trag­ing of social con­di­tions, a per­pet­u­a­tion of the exist­ing sit­u­a­tion by those who seek to prof­it from its dif­fer­ences.

Low Laten­cy, James Bri­dle

The rea­son I am blog­ging these things is that I con­tin­ue to be inter­est­ed in new forms of resis­tance against the non-lin­ear war­fare described by Cur­tis and Bridle’s tech­nolo­gies of con­trol. The first step is to become aware of these strate­gies, but to return to Boyd, the ques­tion then is how to oper­ate in such a way that you can sur­vive on your own terms, by using tem­po and agili­ty and basi­cal­ly a bet­ter under­stand­ing of real­i­ty.

To close things off, a few recent things I read which are all about cap­i­tal­ism, and its instru­men­tal­i­sa­tion of every­day life. First off, Andres O’Hehir on the per­ceived death of adult­hood, a phe­nom­e­non which I sort of recog­nise, and which he apt­ly describes not as some kind of con­scious lifestyle choice or mega­trend, but as a thing emerg­ing from the demands put on us by the mar­ket and the cul­tur­al indus­try.

The suit-wear­ing, gin-drink­ing 35-year-old Orga­ni­za­tion Man of 1964 and the couch-bound, action-fig­ure-col­lect­ing 35-year-old fan­boy of 2014 are dialec­ti­cal mir­ror images of each oth­er, eco­nom­ic arche­types called forth by their respec­tive eras.

The “death of adult­hood” is real­ly just cap­i­tal­ism at work, Andrew O’Hehir

It’s curi­ous to think that “becom­ing an adult” is some­thing the mar­ket does not want you to do.

And final­ly, two pieces on the shar­ing econ­o­my. One, by Avi Ash­er-Schapiro, clear­ly describ­ing how Uber’s blue­print makes the liveli­hood of work­ers even more pre­car­i­ous, while at the same time forc­ing them to tell their cus­tomers they love their jobs. The oth­er, by the infa­mous Evge­ny Moro­zov, right­ly points out the shar­ing econ­o­my alle­vi­ates some of the pains of liv­ing under late cap­i­tal­ism, while doing noth­ing to solve the root caus­es of those ails.

But under the guise of inno­va­tion and progress, com­pa­nies are strip­ping away work­er pro­tec­tions, push­ing down wages, and flout­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions. At its core, the shar­ing econ­o­my is a scheme to shift risk from com­pa­nies to work­ers, dis­cour­age labor orga­niz­ing, and ensure that cap­i­tal­ists can reap huge prof­its with low fixed costs.

There’s noth­ing inno­v­a­tive or new about this busi­ness mod­el. Uber is just cap­i­tal­ism, in its most naked form.

Against Shar­ing, Avi Ash­er-Schapiro

There’s no deny­ing that the shar­ing econ­o­my can – and prob­a­bly does – make the con­se­quences of the cur­rent finan­cial cri­sis more bear­able. How­ev­er, in tack­ling the con­se­quences, it does noth­ing to address the caus­es. It’s true that, thanks to advances in the infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy, some of us can final­ly get by with less – chiefly, by rely­ing on more effec­tive dis­tri­b­u­tion of exist­ing resources. But there’s noth­ing to cel­e­brate here: it’s like hand­ing every­body earplugs to deal with intol­er­a­ble street noise instead of doing some­thing about the noise itself.

Don’t believe the hype, the ‘shar­ing econ­o­my’ masks a fail­ing econ­o­my, Evge­ny Moro­zov

I blog these things as a reminder to myself of some of the argu­ments against the cur­rent vogue of dig­i­tal­ly medi­at­ed ser­vice deliv­ery plat­forms. They can be so seduc­tive and many clients and peers seem blind­ed by their promis­es. I am inter­est­ed in sal­vaging the good bits of these ser­vices, they are after all poten­tial­ly empow­er­ing, while com­ing up with solu­tions to the injus­tices they per­pe­trate and enlarge.

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.

3 thoughts on “This game is rigged, man.””

  1. This arti­cle does invite an elo­quent reac­tion. But alas, you are so spot on with every­thing you write, all left for me to do is to applaud your think­ing and insight. I am impressed with the way you give words to this ideas. Thanks you for that!

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