Something is brewing in the world of digital labour. In October 2012, online worker Christopher Otey filed a class action lawsuit against the US based company CrowdFlower, one of the largest platforms for the completion of so called ‘micro-tasks’. The company claims to have a reserve army of millions of workers and according to its CEO Lukas Biewald, they hire up to 10.000 people per hour and up to 3 years of work per day 1 The pending lawsuit is now challenging the companies failure to pay the minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act to its US workforce and Christopher Otey’s lawyers are searching the web for other underpaid members of the online crowd who want to join the class action. CrowdFlower’s lawyers point out, however, that Christopher Otey did his work completely voluntarily and that he and all the other ‘cloud-workers’ are not employees but free contractors. The case is still open, but it has the potential to shake the foundations of a business model that has been mushrooming around the globe over the last five years.
Back in the summer of 2006, the journalist Jeff Howe coined the term crowdsourcing to describe a new mode of production on the Internet. Howe wasn’t the first one trying to give it a name, but it was his coinage that came out on top. The teaser for his original article in Wired read: “Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D.” 2006 was also the year when the idea of so called Web 2.0 gained momentum. A common claim was made that it was the individual user who would now control the Internet. The enthusiasm reached its peak when in December, Time magazine made You the Person of the Year. In the years since Howe filed his article, the actual applications of crowdsourcing, however, raise the question who really is in charge?
Painting by the Futurist Tullio Crali: Nose-diving on the City, 1939
The future begins with a crash. In 1908 the novice driver Filippo Tommaso Marinetti looses control over his machine. A joyride in his open sports car comes to a grinding halt in a ditch near Milano. The accident was not his fault (of course), but that of two cyclists, who, with their petty muscle powered vehicles, had dared to come into the way of progress itself, embodied by the poet and his hundred mechanical horses. Marinetti is only slightly injured, but the sudden interruption of his speed-rush unfolds a catalytic process on his thinking and inspires him to write the Futurist Manifesto. On February 20, 1909, after a few hardly noticed earlier releases of the manifesto in Italy, Marinetti buys himself into the front page of Le Figaro, and thus finally reaches the necessary critical mass:
We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
The annual awards ceremony of the prestigious red dot design award will take place at the Aalto Theater in Essen on 2nd July 2012. The award-winning designs will then be shown in a yearlong exhibition in the red dot design museum in the former coal mine Zeche Zollverein. This year’s award winners include Jake Zien’s articulated surge protector Pivot Power and Angelo Caccione’s multifunctional wine opener Verseur, both by the company Quirky. Like all the other award-winners these products are distinguished by the superlative quality of their design – after all, 1,058 of the 4,515 entries in the product design category were awarded the coveted hallmark of excellence. However, what makes the two aforementioned brands stand out from the throng of winners is not the high quality of the end product, but the process by which they came about. Quirky is not just the name of a brand for household products and multimedia accessories, nor is it just a design office. What makes Quirky unique is the utilisation of “hive intelligence” in the product design. Quirky is a crowdsourcing platform that brings two products to the marketplace every week, developed by a steadily growing online community with currently 190,000 members.
When entering the dimly lit interior of the Wellcome Collection with its wooden panelling for the first time, it is easy to get carried away by the plethora of weird and wonderful objects on open display. Exhibited inside glass cabinets these visible but untouchable artefacts take the spectator into the obscure and esoteric world of the ‘Medicine Man’. In here, the tools of the medical trade still allow no clear delineation between the functional and the spiritual, between science and art. Grouped loosely around large issues such as ‘The Beginning of Life’, the heterogenous exhibits seem to stem not just from an other world but from as many other worlds as there are objects. There is one thing though, that they all have in common: their close connection to the human body. All artefacts deal with the visible and invisible threats to our well being. This holds true for the brutal looking forceps and saws displayed in the vitrine ‘Metal Instruments’, which were used to operate inside the opened human body, as well as for the Peter Pan like wooden figure in the vitrine ‘Seeking Help’, which served to ward off malevolent spirits before they could do any harm; a metaphysical firewall against invisible threats.