tung-hui-hu

The user is a deeply synthetic creation, right? The identity of the user is actually very odd if you look at it historically, because it really means a way of dividing up a shared resource. You’re all sharing the same computer and yet you think of this as private. The journalist Steven Levy says, “it’s actually like making love to someone knowing that they’re making love to many other people.” How we think of this now as a model for individuality is very bizarre—perhaps a matter of forty years of indoctrination. Every user has become a freelance laborer, every user is out for themselves, everyone can affiliate themselves with whatever company.

This sounds great in theory, but the very end of the book takes up this idea of the “human as a service”—a technologist’s phrase, not mine. It means that we should all “Uberize” ourselves—not just to drive cars, but to let every moment of our day be monetized by an app. The gruesome literalization of the “human as a service” is the captcha workers who are asked to prove that they’re human over and over again, every ten seconds. If all we need is to get proof of humanity, then we can make that a service and we can outsource it to Bangladesh and have that done for us for two dollars per thousand captchas. It’s confusion between what is really an economic idea of accounting for how much time we are using, which is called the user, and the idea of the personal. We’re now reading the user as an “I,” as a confessional subject; at the meeting you mentioned, participants were supposed to confess their failure to use. It’s a gross misreading and it also leads to problems where we approach as political problems not from the point of view of collective action, but from that of the user, which, again, is a fake thing.