Like Apple a huge number of companies transform unwaged enthusiasm into micro-productivity that, in aggregate, can be folded into profit schemes but could never be paid for as actual wage labor. Valve’s Steam service is building an ecosystem of unwaged user productivity, selling games through its “Early Access” program, essentially allowing game developers to charge players to beta test their games in exchange for the flattering thrill of seeing something before it’s ready.
Coursera has traded on goodwill and charitable idealism to duck expensive overhead costs by using voluntarily donated space while transforming transcription services into student curriculum. Duolingo redirects the desire to learn a language into a business that sells low-cost translations to media companies wanting to syndicate stories into non-English-speaking markets. GitHub has inserted itself into the open source software community by creating a central repository of collaborative coding projects, while charging users to operate private repositories. Google , Facebook, Twitter , have all turned even the most basic acts of daily life into market research micro-labor, and the more personally intertwined we become with each the more productive we become for them.
To a large extent, work has always been a delusional gifting of time and energy to bosses in exchange for the abstract comforts of a purposeful identity in a superstructure of someone else’s making. This arrangement was always transitory, and now that the economies of scale have grown so large that the value of the end product can no longer support the labor necessary for its creation, we find ourselves still desiring of the identity we once derived from serving, a yearning that drives people into charitable forms of giving to for-profit companies while increasingly mistrusting one another. Individuals don’t need help because they’re lazy, uneducated, addicts, or criminals, but companies are always worth contributing to because they do great things for the collective. read more
In Japan in the early 1990s, a young psychiatrist named Saitō Tamaki began seeing patients with a cluster of strange symptoms. Actually, he barely saw them at all; more often than not, other family members would approach him about a brother or a son who was afflicted with an unfamiliar state. Mostly men on the threshold of adulthood, they were retreating to their rooms, shrinking from all social contact or communication, and closing off into themselves, often for periods of a year or more. Not wanting to kill themselves but unable to live in society, these youths folded inward in an attempt to fit themselves away. Saitō began calling them hikikomori sainen, “withdrawn young men,” and in 1998 published a book with his findings called Shakaiteki hikikomori—Owaranai Shishunki, or Social Withdrawal—Adolescence Without End.
Saitō ventured a count: There were 1 million people in a state of withdrawal or hikikomori, about one percent of the Japanese population. Eighty percent of them were men; 90 percent were over 18. “Social withdrawal is not some sort of ‘fad’ that will just fade away,” Saitō wrote. It is “a symptom, not the name of an illness,” and “there has been no sign that the number of cases will decrease.” His book became a best seller in weeks. Hikikomori joined otaku (a person with obsessive interests) and karoshi (death from overwork) as a loan word in English to describe a new social phenomenon that at first appeared uniquely Japanese. A few American authors have picked up on it as an enigmatic or convenient trope (in books like Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation by Michael Zielenziger and Hikikomori and the Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus, most recently). But only now has Saitō’s original work been translated, by Jeffrey Angles, published by University of Minnesota Press in March.
Culturally bound psychological phenomena always fascinate the press because they excite the categories of racism through a veneer of scientificity. But Saitō was explicit on this point: Though his patients’ symptoms all emerged in some way through the Japanese social order, there was nothing intrinsically Japanese about the phenomenon. In fact, he had coined the term hikikomori to translate work that an American psychologist had done on similar cases of acute social withdrawal and later joined it up with the sociological category of NEETs (not in education, employment, or training) in Britain. His internationalism slyly made room for an astonishing claim: The structure of age itself was beginning to break down. read more