Moby’s amazing new video clip titled, “Are you lost in the world like me”, has already made people around the world make various comments about the alienation and estrangement that smart phones have brought upon us. But are we once again missing the point?
Two images from the past two weeks will haunt western societies for decades. In the first one, we see Hilary Clinton’s fans literally turning their back on her just so they can take a selfie. The second image comes from Moby’s new clip which presents a dystopian society where everyone is only focused at their smart phones.
People eventually turned against the device itself, which seemed to embody everything that is wrong with western societies, a rather luddite and simplistic way of thinking.
Τhe problem is not that smart phones estranged, alienated or stole our free time. For example, why should someone wander around bars for hours instead of seeking a partner through an application like Tinder? Why read the instructions on a detergent bottle while on the toilet instead of an interesting info-war.gr article? What is so wrong about people getting off the couch to walk around the park searching for Pokemon?
Are you lost in the world like me?
If the systems have failed?
Are you free?
Smart phones are not some time – stealing demons. They are but an aspect of a very complicated social and, for the most part, economic process. Just like Nicole Aschoff from Jacobin magazine explained, smart phones will define the 21st century just like cars defined the 20th century. And that might be tragic, but not for the obvious reasons.
Before we get to the accusations of alienation that smart phones cause (by the way private cars also faced such accusations because they would drive people away from the “collective” means of transportation), it would be worthwhile to focus on the relations of production that are reflected upon a mobile.
In contrast with the assembly line workers of the past, who were paid relatively decently (so that they could buy the products the produced), smart phone workers, in Third World countries live in a state of semi-legal slavery.
Of course the difference lies within the established structure of power and the deterioration of the relation of production between the capital and labor in modern capitalism; not in some magical property of the smart phones.
As Aschoff explained, the distance between the Congolese that export coltan and Nokia executives is longer than the length of the ocean that stands betweem them. History, politics, their country’s relations with the financial capital and their national development problems, whose roots stretch back to the era of colonization, add up to the distance.
But what happens at the opposite end of the production and distribution chain, when the smart phone reaches the hand of the consumer?
Like Umberto Eco used to say, only workers should have mobile phones, so their boss can always find them. Specifically, since the development of the smart phone which allows the performance of simple or even more complex tasks, the working environment expands in space and time and follows the employee around during the day, through ways that no employment contacts or unions can control at the moment.
Today’s working hours are actually equal or even higher to those of the first industrial revolution years (even if the modern employee can wear a suit instead of a workers uniform).
But modern relations of production affect the iPhone’s owner, even when his mobile is used for recreational purposes.
American sociologist Erwin Goffman compares every mobile activity (from an innocent selfie to a love message) to a theatrical performance were users end up producing and promoting a particular product: their own image.
Modern capitalism takes over new aspects of our daily lives and extracts surplus value from both the Chinese industrial workers and the final consumers, who not only offer their overtime labor, but also their own image as a product.
And a system like that cannot and must not survive. The problem is that the system will not self destruct like Samsung 7 did. It will need a little push from us in order to come to an end.
Wages For Facebook movement’s manifaesto goes through some very interesting aspects of social media’s political economy.
The Smartphone Society
An introductive text about the relations of exploitation in the era of smartphones from the fascinating jacobinmag.com magazine.
Translation: Panos Chatzistefanou