Title: Moments are Still the Elements of Profit: The App Economy and the Digital Extraction of Surplus-Value
Abstract: Over the last two decades, while the ranks of the under and unemployed have swelled, and as the commercial demand for more precise data has skyrocketed, the smartphone task and gaming app industry has exploded. Likened to a portable Mechanical Turk, or a veritable “data enrichment” industry, apps such as Spare5, Taps for Money, InboxDollars, Cash Karma, Mistplay, Bingo Box, Solitude Cube, Swagbucks, Survey Junkie, Lifepoints, PrizeRebel, and TreasureTrooper, to name just a few, are advertised to e-commerce and AI companies as a way to get the most direct access to potential consumers, and as way to gain a “cost-effective” leg up in the “arms race in training data.” They are also presented to consumers or users as a means to “win” or “earn some money by performing simple tasks irrespective of the place where you are.” Companies propose that by downloading these apps onto smartphones users can render their “free time” economically productive. In this talk, I explore how the smartphone app industry is facilitating the digitized extraction of surplus-value. I argue that it is precisely by blurring the boundaries between work and leisure, and in many cases, “gamifying” tasks, that the app economy, which is inextricably tied to the platform economy, is able to perpetuate and extend a classic form of capitalist expropriation into the most intimate reaches of daily life. Drawing upon an analysis of some of the most popular smartphone “earning” apps, I will demonstrate that although much has changed in the era of digital capitalism, moments, as Marx recognized long ago, are still the elements of profit.