When we put out a call for submissions for this issue, we included this specific fine print: "As a radical publication we are specifically interested in pieces that reflect on how the unpaid labor done in punk, DIY and anti-capitalist communities intersects with the concerns of digital immaterial labor discussions."
To understand the way a punk-spirited publication might unpack the implications of "digital immaterial labor," we need to think through the history and context of labor, economics, the digital, and the immaterial, and their relationships to punk.
DIY organizing is rooted in anti-capitalism - the essence of what makes it so appealing to the radically-minded (ourselves included). Punk's aspirations are not driven by money, but by a desire for autonomy and self-determination.
Collectivizing, measuring for consensus, and staying informed necessarily involve a lot of free labor. With The Media, we've happily done this for over two years. That it's all done for free is partially the point. When something needs to exist in the world, punk says that you can make it happen regardless of whether the resources are handed to you. It says free things have value. It says we don't need currency, goods, or perks to boost movements or provide care. It says we don't need to wait for permission.
We can create our own worlds outside the money-driven systems that maintain the status quo by instead having supportive community infrastructure and developing alternative economies. In our case, we can try to carve out some non-commercial space on the data-and-advertising-driven mess that the internet has become.
"What we want is free," sang 80s Chicago hardcore punx Articles of Faith. Yes, it is.
That said, there are at least some pockets of punk that are mindful of labor politics - and conversations of privilege, time, energy do arise. "Who has time to sit around writing for free all day? I need to my work to be valued so I can pay rent," is a sort of common response. Rightfully so. Even when it's not a motivation, money remains a material need.
But the punk ideal of free exchange is not antithetical to the ethos of fair compensation. Many punks supporting, distributing, and surviving off free shit have long championed worker's rights. Like Colin Atrophy pointed out in the Slice Harvester interview in our last issue, a lot of punks hold service industry jobs to subsidize touring and non-commercial projects, which is why, for example, your punk friends will probably give you shit if you don't tip well at a restaurant or coffee shop. Rightfully so. Tip your fvcking servers. Support workers' unions. Don't be an ass.
Radical communities also tend to acknowledge the immaterial. By "immaterial labor" we mean labor that does not produce commodity. Work that does not necessarily produce stuff. This might mean affective labor or cognitive labor; the labor of care, the labor of looking out for each other, the labor of educating, the labor of thinking and talking and processing. In radical circles, when we talk about "the immaterial" it's often in relation to the notion of emotional labor and alienation that happens when so much of your work is wrapped up in social justice, community organizing, and interpersonal consensus building.
Different interpretations of punk ideologies take on different relationships to "the digital." Internet anarchists and cyber punks have created new paradigms, understanding the internet as another platform to tweak, hack, and (sometimes) destroy. Other punk perspectives remain attached to the pre-digital days, to punk's relationship with the material experience, ephemerality and destruction. There's this stereotype that "punks don't make websites," and it's manifested in the growing pains as The Media considers what it means to be a zine without the physical Xeroxed pages typical of the culture.
So radical communities are concerned with the immaterial, skeptical of the digital, conscious of labor. Together the terms "digital immaterial labor" might seem overly academic - but these specific concerns need to be criticized by all our communities.
Punk digital immaterial labor is so real, and increasingly digital. Tweeting at someone about new records; collective organizing via Facebook groups; email threads about booking shows and tours; texting someone to see if they got your email. The second you hit 'send' on a text, email, or Gchat related to punk production, you are engaging that person on the receiving end in an immaterial form of digital labor. Punks are on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Youtube, clicking and streaming and linking off recommendations to other corporatized web space. Moreover, all of this labor is funneled into capital and sprawling tech firms that displace communities, exploit resources, and narc on your friends.
What we want is free. Those words often play out in our collective minds while reconciling the hours of free work done in the name of supporting non-commercial projects, much like this one. But what actually isn't free in a contemporary context where so much of our work is done now - on platforms where our every click/Like/tweet/fav is expanding the already wide breadth of Silicon Valley?
When do "likes" become labor? When is that labor directly at odds with our politics? To what extent is it privileged to care?
If there can be said to be a 'digital divide' in punk, it might look like this: Should punks learn from the conversation surrounding digital immaterial labor and rethink the way labor politics inform DIY communities? Or should the digital labor activists look to punk for examples of how truly community-oriented landscapes can pool resources to provide non-commercial space for cultural exchange, and then harness social media to bolster our own political agendas?
We don't have as many answers as we do questions, but in the burgeoning culture of unacknowledged digital immaterial labor where it's increasingly impossible to do anything at all without feeling exploited, these questions are worth raising.
In our anti-capitalist, noncommercial, DIY punk communities, perhaps we cannot afford to dismiss the corporatized internet entirely. But we can push back on finding pure solutions, and instead support causes that work to make the Internet more fair, vouching for a type of economic justice that social media corporations directly oppose. We can and must expose those in power who keep us in these precarious positions - ones where we are dependent on unsustainable and unjust means of communication and distribution - and then get rich off of our micro-labor. We must find ways of being proactive about criticizing these platforms, all while living with them.
Whereas dismantling today's digital information platforms, or fully opting out seems impossible, maybe then we can begin to imagine creative alternatives; non-commercial spaces on the internet that we can feel good about; spaces that are in line with our politics. Or at the very least, our communities can better understand the politics of participating in online spaces.
This issue is dedicated to its contributors: writers, website managers, and editors, who have contributed immaterial, digital and emotional labor towards its creative production. Readers are laboring too: there is so much to read these days and digging yourself out of the clickhole itself can require logging off, opting out, or powering down - against a logic of tapping in, staying tuned in. Thank you for your work.