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The Digital Factory

The Human Labor of Automation

The Digital Factory reveals the hidden human labor that supports today’s digital capitalism.
 
The workers of today’s digital factory include those in Amazon warehouses, delivery drivers, Chinese gaming workers, Filipino content moderators, and rural American search engine optimizers. Repetitive yet stressful, boring yet often emotionally demanding, these jobs require little formal qualification, but can demand a large degree of skills and knowledge. This work is often hidden behind the supposed magic of algorithms and thought to be automated, but it is in fact highly dependent on human labor.
 
The workers of today’s digital factory are not as far removed from a typical auto assembly line as we might think. Moritz Altenried takes us inside today’s digital factories, showing that they take very different forms, including gig economy platforms, video games, and Amazon warehouses. As Altenried shows, these digital factories often share surprising similarities with factories from the industrial age. As globalized capitalism and digital technology continue to transform labor around the world, Altenried offers a timely and poignant exploration of how these changes are restructuring the social division of labor and its geographies as well as the stratifications and lines of struggle.

Reviews

"Altenried takes readers on an amazing tour into the contemporary mutations of what Marx famously called 'the hidden abode of production.' What looms behind the magic of algorithms, artificial intelligence, and automation is a world of heterogeneous labor regimes, exploitation, and struggles. The Digital Factory is a landmark contribution to the study of contemporary capitalism, a must-read for scholars and activists."

Sandro Mezzadra, University of Bologna

"From the warehouse to the multiplayer game, content moderation to people-as-a-service, Altenried unearths the shifting stakes, geographies, and experiences of digital labor. The Digital Factory offers no solace to purveyors of data and automation fantasies. By exposing how the power of machines entangles living knowledge, intelligence and subjectivity, this remarkable book offers resources for changing the worlds of work and technology alike."

Brett Neilson, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sidney University

"In this ground-breaking book, Altenried shows us that, far from marking the end of the factory era the digital age is spreading the factory model of centralized control of vulnerable labor beyond its walls, extending into every corner of the global economy. Drawing on vivid first-hand observations, he spotlights the experiences of workers carrying out the hidden tasks that keep the information economy going, from the hidden housework of the Internet to the delivery of parcels under the panoptic surveillance of the algorithm."

Ursula Huws, University of Hertfordshire

Table of Contents

One
Workers Leaving the Factory: Introduction
Two
The Global Factory: Logistics
Three
The Factory of Play: Gaming
Four
The Distributed Factory: Crowdwork
Five
The Hidden Factory: Social Media
Six
The Platform as Factory: Conclusion
Seven
The Contagious Factory: Epilogue
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index
 

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