The Digital Factory: The Human Labor of Automation (Paperback)
The Digital Factory reveals the hidden human labor that supports today’s digital capitalism.
The workers of today’s digital factory include those in Amazon warehouses, delivery drivers, Chinese gaming workers, Filipino content moderators, and rural American search engine optimizers. Repetitive yet stressful, boring yet often emotionally demanding, these jobs require little formal qualification, but can demand a large degree of skills and knowledge. This work is often hidden behind the supposed magic of algorithms and thought to be automated, but it is in fact highly dependent on human labor.
The workers of today’s digital factory are not as far removed from a typical auto assembly line as we might think. Moritz Altenried takes us inside today’s digital factories, showing that they take very different forms, including gig economy platforms, video games, and Amazon warehouses. As Altenried shows, these digital factories often share surprising similarities with factories from the industrial age. As globalized capitalism and digital technology continue to transform labor around the world, Altenried offers a timely and poignant exploration of how these changes are restructuring the social division of labor and its geographies as well as the stratifications and lines of struggle.
About the Author
Moritz Altenried teaches at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany.
"The Digital Factory is an important contribution to the discussion of digital labor. But it also makes clear that researchers must now address the next task at hand: how to turn these bad jobs into good jobs."
"Altenried's insights into the rapidly changing relationship between technological change, digitization and global work are breathtaking. The Digital Factory develops a deeper knowledge of the terrain, both social and physical, on which present and future labor disputes willy-nilly have to be fought. Continuing, expanding and diversifying this endeavor is and will remain an enormous undertaking. Books of similar intellectual thoroughness and comparable political depth are badly needed."
"In this extensively researched volume, Altenreid uses interviews with workers in this complex digital economy to deftly link the hidden human labor behind automation and algorithms to the Taylorist factories of the Industrial Age. Covering everything from the complex interactions between humans and automation at Amazon’s distribution centers to World of Warcraft gold farmers in China and the unseen human labor behind Facebook and Google algorithms, The Digital Factory gives readers who may not be as familiar with Taylorism and its relationship to the complex landscape of the digital factory age a solid foundation on the topic."
"Altenried takes readers on an amazing tour into the contemporary mutations of what Marx famously called 'the hidden abode of production.' What looms behind the magic of algorithms, artificial intelligence, and automation is a world of heterogeneous labor regimes, exploitation, and struggles. The Digital Factory is a landmark contribution to the study of contemporary capitalism, a must-read for scholars and activists."
— Sandro Mezzadra, University of Bologna
"From the warehouse to the multiplayer game, content moderation to people-as-a-service, Altenried unearths the shifting stakes, geographies, and experiences of digital labor. The Digital Factory offers no solace to purveyors of data and automation fantasies. By exposing how the power of machines entangles living knowledge, intelligence and subjectivity, this remarkable book offers resources for changing the worlds of work and technology alike."
— Brett Neilson, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sidney University
"In this ground-breaking book, Altenried shows us that, far from marking the end of the factory era the digital age is spreading the factory model of centralized control of vulnerable labor beyond its walls, extending into every corner of the global economy. Drawing on vivid first-hand observations, he spotlights the experiences of workers carrying out the hidden tasks that keep the information economy going, from the hidden housework of the Internet to the delivery of parcels under the panoptic surveillance of the algorithm."
— Ursula Huws, University of Hertfordshire