Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Article on the Invisible Worker

I ran across this New Yorker blog post by George Packer today via the Bill Moyers site:


Of course, in some ways the invisibility of the worker that Packer describes is similar to that of the factory worker. When we buy a car, for example, we don't see the factory worker who made the car any more than we see an Amazon warehouse worker when we order books (or whatever). But what was interesting to me is his description of how the image of the worker has evolved in the past hundred years - from "toiler" to Walmart greeter to Internet worker.  There seems to be an added layer of invisibility in Internet commerce. I have to admit that I love Amazon. I usually get my stuff in two days and I don't have to haul myself off to the bookstore (or wherever). But in that, I lose a level of physical, in-person interaction on a social level.

I would also add that this invisibility also extends to our money as individual consumers. I don't "see" my money anymore. I don't get a paper check, I get an electronic transaction. I don't pay with a check or with cash, I pay with an online transaction. The level of abstraction gets more and more...abstract.

Thoughts anyone?


  1. Kim, your comment on how we "don't see" money anymore is something that I've been thinking about in the last few days, especially in light of the ebbing and flowing currency, bitcoin. In a recent NYTimes article, Joe Nocera wrote, "so far bitcoins have less resembled a currency than a commodity. Up until now, they have mostly been used for pure speculation. Indeed, because there are only a limited number of bitcoins in circulation, the speculative ride has been pretty wild." I find this distinction between currency and commodity interesting. In terms of Marx, to be a commodity, bitcoin would require a use-value, where as currency (or money) is exchange of equivalences - money, of course, represents the alienation of us from the product/from the work of that product. Yet, when even the money itself is - essentially - fictional or intangible, does it duplicate our alienation?

    On the flip side, I may be over dramatizing the fact that this money is virtual. After all, as you point out, is a disembodied global currency so much different than using a Visa and paying a Visa bill that is no more than a series of numerical values. Perhaps it may be more significant to think on how bitcoin is being used, what it's purchasing power is. To be honest, I have no idea how this currency can be used to buy things - it seems like a private currency for internet elite to become involved in. Does anyone have a better understanding of how this works?

    Here's that article I referenced: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/01/opinion/nocera-the-bitcoin-blasphemy.html?hp&rref=opinion&_r=0

  2. Thanks Alicia. I've heard reports on bitcoin, mostly on NPR, and have really never gotten my head around it - like you, I don't have a good understanding of how it works. The article me to understand the nature of it, in that it isn't connected to anything (government or otherwise) to back it up.

    And like you, I don't know what bitcoin buys, or how it would be converted to or exchanged for another currency. I have heard reports of drug traffic and money laundering, but not much else. And like putting money into the stock market, it can just disappear.

  3. In this context: http://valleywag.gawker.com/bitcoin-kingpin-admits-everyones-money-is-gone-1533315083?utm_campaign=socialflow_gawker_facebook&utm_source=gawker_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow


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