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Photo by KS KYUNG on Unsplash

In Andre Gorz’s article “The Social Ideology of the Motorcar,” the perspective of the early 70s becomes that of a reality we face and live within today. The rise of the motorcar did not necessarily produce drivers with simple intentions to transport from one place to another. Gorz emphasizes the crucial need to explain the rise of cars in the historical origins of which it became a necessary commodity to all, and a commodity that in itself came to reproduce and sustain a spread of other sub-commodities (e.g. gas, auto parts, public and private parking). Gorz focuses on the automobile’s shift from a luxury good to a crucial necessity made available to everyone, not just the rich few. However, despite this widespread accessibility, the motorcar has become a stamp of privatized and individualized freedom, accentuated by custom-made aesthetics and features that can be bought by one’s own capital. Gorz finds the motorcar paradoxical in its essence. While it is seen as a public necessity and a materialized form of access to public resources–hospitals, public facilities, the highway–the public’s tendency to situate itself in proximity to luxury and exclusive ownership still remains. The act of driving affirms this especially. A driver can easily take speed into their own hands and “overtake” the speed of others in order to reach public resources at a much faster rate. This ability to accelerate, however, doesn't exist solely to reach the goal of faster arrival; rather, this act can be used as a form of intimidation, an exercise of power, all in the open arena of a public highway.

Gorz also emphasizes the historical origins of the motorcar. He traces back to the origins of the train and telegraph which gave rise to clock time as the central organizer of global production. These technological innovations flourished in their technical ability to compress and shorten the in-betweens of human labor and productivity. In doing so, human production, through the facilitation of the motorcar, gave rise to cities, where labor became centralized and detached from home life. We must reflect on how labor has integrated itself into “home life” outside of city borders. The compression of time made possible by motorcars has blurred the line between work and life, which may take more than the eradication of cities to ameliorate. This also poses another contradiction in that while motorcars have contributed to this compression, the pesky nature of traffic contributes to the counterproductive and slowing of time. Overall, Gorz encourages us to reflect on mobile transportation as part of a larger picture: the reliance on the car’s illusive trait of acceleration and the city’s role in depersonalizing human beings from one another, reducing our existence to that of passive, routine-driven workers and consumers.
June 7, 2020
Est. Reading Time: 7 min

“the rise of cars... a commodity that in itself came to reproduce and sustain a spread of other sub-commodities”

“The digital economy has become a platform where consumers and producers are one and the same.”

Tiziana Terranova, on the other hand, focuses on the effects of the digital economy on our conceptualization of new forms of digital labor. While Gorz explains how the motorcar has tore through the social fabric of communal solidarity, Terranova reveals the ways in which the digital economy has opened the doors for communities to flourish and connect in a newer, digitized way. One of Terranova’s crucial points focuses on how the digital economy has shifted labor from the boundaries of a factory to that of the greater society. Social and community relations, while virtual, shorten the distance of communication between consumers of society and knowledge workers. Especially that of the gift economy, labor no longer has its impersonalized essence; rather, knowledge workers are now able to reclaim autonomy of their platforms and intellectual labor and now cater to their own agendas and the needs of their consumers, instead of simply filling a quota set by a superior. While this provides a hopeful path for many creatives and digital workers in general, Terranova also reminds us how the digital economy produces precarity for users who have not yet socially mobilized from “learner” to “worker.” The digital economy has become a platform where consumers and producers are one and the same. Terranova highlights how production on the digital platform is catalyzed and sustained by a “collective cultural labor” where the public can simply create their own needs which then can be distributed and shared through spread of information and accessibility. Reflecting on both Gorz and Terranova as a precarious creative myself, I question the ways labor will progress with the ongoing progress of public infrastructures and virtual, digital platforms and how they will shape the way my generation interacts and or change the ways cities and humans function in our new and ever-progressing world.

Special thanks to Professor Davide Carpano for a great last quarter.

Professor Davide Carpano
Sociology 171 - Technology & Science