Upgrading Humans

Kevin WarwickKevin Warwick is giving a talk entitled “Upgrading Humans: Why Not?” this Monday at 7 PST in the main auditorium on Uvvy Island in Second Life. I’ve always been a fan of many of the transhumanists. I tend to be too much an adherent of the appropriate use of technology to fit in well with the that crowd: too much the humanist to make a good transhumanist. Nonetheless, it seems every year I seem more a tech promoter and less a critic.

There is some discussion in several circles, for example, now critical of user-created media. Trebor others have been discussing this a bit on the iDC list recently. I find it very difficult to associate the work of blogs, Flickr, and YouTube with labor, despite the fact that it is making the systems’ owners collectively very rich, very quickly. I won’t sketch out a complete argument, because I don’t have one, but I’ll start with a provocation:

Marx would have dug whuffie.

I asked my class a few weeks ago what they would do if they won $10 million in the lottery (the amount most say would be necessary to live comfortably). How they would fill their days. (The course is related to the development of User-Created Media.) Of course, I suspect the reality is that you would invest the money, but the question was what you would do with your time. I noted that smoking marijuana all day and playing X-box was a perfectly acceptable response, and a few people in the class agreed that this would be their aim. Most, however, suggested that they would make movies, do voiceovers for cartoons, take up photography more actively, teach in underprivileged areas, become an interior decorator, or flip real estate (not merely speculating, but creatively reforming).

After work, we still work, we just don’t have to any more. I think a lot of the contributions to open source projects, and a lot of the videos of people on YouTube, reflect the dawning of a new kind of work for the privileged classes. I think Google reflects one vision of that workers utopia, though there are others. I also think that the cult of celebrity that many have seen as disturbing among the youth suggests a post-career view of what work and money mean. Kids would rather be famous than rich, because they already know they will be rich. And some of them are right to make that assumption.

It’s a natural outgrowth of the global hollowing out of the middle-class. Many people don’t have to work. Or, rather, their work doesn’t feel much like work. It is dependent on their ability to be creative, and the means of that production is fairly unalienable. It’s not the end of capitalism–it’s all built on a working class that is more shrouded from its role in society than ever before. But how strange it would be if the revolution came not from below, but trickled down.

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