Introducing the Mercenary Cubiclists, Sleep Dealing

When not talking about and idolising at wasps, I've been digging into research for another project I'm taking part in about the future of networked employment and manufacturing. Of course, it's a new technology driven world and so marketing companies and research departments have seized the opportunity to put this guy down as our future:

Yay! Can't bloody wait. We'll all get polyester suits and redacted iPads to work on. And we can be ANYWHERE in the world. Imagine that, oh brave new world that has such wonders in!

Except no. That's never what's going to happen. Well, it is in some far off enclave of irreality, but foresight clings to optimism. So the optimistic and well researched future of networked work has forgotten anything Marx ever said, slapped a vowel in front of what technology we already have (an 'e' or an 'i' will suffice), coloured-by-numbers it in technicolour multiculturalism and marched it off into the trenches of consumerism to be brutally slaughtered.

Capitalism is in crisis, this is not news, or it shouldn't be. Capitalism IS crisis. It requires the entropy-reversing effects of catastrophe in order to recharge itself, to sell quells for fears and cures for ills. A sequence of recent viewing experiences - Cosmopolis and Sleep Dealer in particular have got me pining to explore the poetics of exploitation that is at the core of its modus operandi. So this project will turn away form the iPad'd future creative cafe hubs of work and delve into a far more powerful potentiality.

Sleep Dealer approaches the endless theme park rollercoaster that is the US's Mexican immigration paranoia at a future time. Already the situation on the border takes pages from Berlin's history book but chuck in a couple of drones, some glowing cables, bionic enchancements and a faded-from-overuse love story and you have quite a pleasant dystopian B movie. The genius of Sleep Dealer isn't in its technological vision but in its approach to it's philosophy of work and how the overriding ideologies of capitalism would find the most use of the technology - to commercialise and celebratise drone warfare, to increase alienation between worker and work and between worker and consumer. Perhaps this screengrab explains best:

The American Dream

Parallel this up with a series of revelations about Amazon's globally exploited - and largely first world - workforce and an interesting picture builds up of distance and anonymity. Of hiding the perversion in the production process through technology.

Amazon's employment policies are clever and somewhat devious. To take the Rugley example: First, you promise to build a 'fulfillment' centre providing hundreds of jobs in an area that has been jobless for a long time. In the case of Rugley, a mining town, most skills are non-transferable, education and healthcare aren't great and people are proud of their town despite many leaving to find employment elsewhere. So the promise of thousands of job requiring very little in the way of experience or qualification is a potent honeytrap. Amazon then outsources employment to agencies who hire on short term contracts with the promise that with a proven record you can be upgraded to a full employee. A promise that usually remains unachievable. The terms of the contracts mean that you can be fired for basically anything, just on a whim really and the competition is so intense that no-one will take sympathy on you.

In Rugley, the workers are payed 1p above minimum wage, walk up to 20km a day and climb over each other for meager opportunities and perks. Amazon almost literally bleeds a desperate place dry and pays no taxes. This isn't a unique model. This is used by Amazon in dozens of 'fulfillment centres' all over Europe including Germany where they apparently hire Neo-Nazis to intimidate workers.

This is the dark and distant side of capitalism. Where networking allows exploitation to be hidden and disguised beneath a system of ceaseless profit. Imagine a future of more and more borderless and invisible manufacturies supporting systems they can never see or touch. It's here we find Mercenary Cubiclists.