Monday, November 9, 2009

Google and the flexible knowledge-worker

Dani Rodrick, in his book Has Globalization Gone too Far?, discusses the mobility of the high skilled laborer, and thus of the factors of production, as a key result of global integration or, as Tiziana Terranova calls it, the digital economy. This mobility encompasses the shifting of the form of labor that Terranova addresses. Terranova understands the process of the transformation of labor’s definition as a “voluntary phenomenon” (104) in which workers are driven by pleasure to produce rather than the orders of the factory owner, and businesses increasingly opt to eliminate the middle-man and “disintermediate” (100) the process of production. In light of this possibility of autonomy and high demand for knowledge, contemporary workplaces in the digital economy have had to transform to secure the workers they need to stay afloat.

The prime example of this new type of workplace is Google. Google opposes everything that Fordism embodied. As Terranova describes, the knowledge-workers need they “need open organizational structures to produce” (103). In order to facilitate the creativity necessary for innovation (without which google would become obsolete), they utilize collaborative recreation by providing pool tables, hot tubs, golf carts, etc. In turn, Google seems to be at the head of internet technology and is the most successful web company to date. In the problematic Terranova proposes, Google is either “the avant-garde of internet laborers” and thus a “force of [political] resistance” or the most powerful force of the “informated societies” and thus the developers of the “gated community for the middle classes” (105).

Google Headquarters

Terranova’s argument leads me to believe that the latter is more likely, although she claims to be skeptical of the entire process of “fragmentation” in the first place. The commodification of knowledge, or the valorization of knowledge with respect to commodities, is just as institutionalized as any formation of a capitalist economy. As Terranova references, the 1990’s brought on an “emphasis on education” to channel the skilled workers into positive outlets, and (as in the case of Google) bureaucratic institutions still exist behind their mutated formations.

But what is the role in the individual if this newly individualist mode of production still lies within the institution of capitalism? Is the sense of individualism a fiction or is it the necessary form the subject needs to take in order to function in ever-changing the digital economy?

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