Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy, Tiziana Terranova |

The real not-capital is labor. -Karl Marx, Grundrisse
Working in the digital media industry is not as much fun as it is made out to be. The “NetSlaves” of the eponymous Webzine are becoming increasingly vociferous about the shamelessly exploitative nature of the job, its punishing work rhythms, and its ruthless casualization. They talk about “24-7 electronic sweatshops” and complain about the ninety-hour weeks and the “moronic management of new media companies.” In early 1999, seven of the fifteen thousand “volunteers” of America Online (AOL) rocked the info-loveboat by asking the Department of Labor to investigate whether AOL owes them back wages for the years of playing chathosts for free. They used to work long hours and love it; now they are starting to feel the pain of being burned by digital media.
These events point to a necessary backlash against the glamorization of digital labor, which highlights its continuities with the modern sweatshop and points to the increasing degradation of knowledge work. Yet the question of labor in a “digital economy” is not so easily dismissed as an innovative development of the familiar logic of capitalist exploitation. The NetSlaves are not simply a typical form of labor on the Internet; they also embody a complex relation to labor that is widespread in late capitalist societies.