This article is from WeChat official account:Chinese Youth Studies (ID: china-youth-study) , author: Luo Feng (East China Normal University, China Research Center for modern cities / urban development Institute research assistant), the original title: “production to meet in uncertainty – network A Review of China’s Youth Digital Labor Research in the Era (2010-2020)”, head picture from: Visual China

Abstract: In recent years, the research topics of youth issues in the Internet age have expanded from culture and consumption to labor. This paper analyzes the existing research on the digital labor of domestic youth in the past ten years and finds that the digital labor of contemporary youth has formed a logical main line of “production and satisfaction in uncertainty”. While the network’s involvement in real social life continues to deepen, digital labor has increased the uncertainty of the youth’s labor process through the extension of the labor relationship chain and the technicalization of labor control; and the reduction of labor skill thresholds and labor’s products Intensification, prompting young laborers to produce labor products that deeply satisfy consumers’ desires. This also means that the social contradictions hidden in the youth digital labor urgently need to be re-examined.

Keywords: Internet age; digital labor; uncertainty; labor process; youth

1. Origin: the labor shift of youth research in the Internet age

In 1994, China officially connected to the Internet. Today, China has become the world’s largest Internet market, with the world’s largest Internet user group (according to the 45th report issued by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) According to the “Statistical Report on China’s Internet Development Status”, in March 2020, the number of Internet users in my country was 904 million, ranking first in the world, with an Internet penetration rate of 64.5%.). The advent of the Internet age and the formation of the Internet society have increasingly become the consensus of the general public. With the blessing of generations and culture, the Chinese youth born and grown up in the 80s, 90s and 00s with the Internet have not only been branded with the Internet in their “genes”, they have also developed their own culture in the online field. , Consumption, labor and other social practices. As Feng Xiaotian pointed out, the Internet has become an important part of the continuum of youth socialization[1]. Therefore, the Internet not only should be, but it has also become an important field of youth research, and fruitful research results have emerged.

When the influence of the network society was beginning to appear, the focus of youth research in my country was focused on the fields of culture, consumption, etc.[2][3]< /span>, and with the increasing participation of young people in society and the Internet, labor issues have gradually attracted the attention of academic circles. After all, labor is the fundamental factor that makes a person in society [4]. In fact, the labor issue itself is one of the core issues of the Internet age that Castells (Castells) the information age trilogy focuses on.[5].

With the continuous deepening of the “invasion” of the Internet into modern society, the digital information technology revolution represented by computers, networks, and communications has given birth to the digital economy, and while driving the political economy to transform into so-called digital capitalism [6], which brings digital labor (Digital labor)This new way of labor[7]. The same trend is happening in China. With the development of the new economy and the iterative of the Internet media, especially with the deep integration of my country’s innovation and innovation practice and the “Internet +” new business format, a large number of digital labor that is different from the traditional work model is rapidly emerging and attracting a large number of young people to join it.

From online writers to video bloggers, from online ride-hailing drivers to shared bike hunters, from online shop puppets to new media operators, these advertised flexible and free professions have transformed some young people into a new generation of digital workers.[8], And explain the corresponding, brand-new labor methods and labor concepts[9]. Of course, related research in our country has also followed in the footsteps of the West, focusing on youth, a typical online group, and producing a wealth of research [10].

II. Review: Classic Types of Chinese Youth Digital Labor

Currently, the academic circles still have inconsistent definitions of the concept of digital labor, and there are even basic differences between material labor and non-material labor, and the narrow and broad definitions of digital labor are derived from this. [11]. The discussion scope of this article draws more on Fox’s conclusions, that is, digital labor covers various related labor forms in the field of industry, service industry, and information in the network field, including Internet professional labor, unpaid labor, and audience labor. Forms of labor such as labor and play labor are the concrete forms of digital labor in the Internet.[12] As an object of key concern, through a classic typed review of the existing research (2010-2020) on its participation in digital labor, and then outline it It presents the landscape of contemporary social labor network, hoping to provide reference for the follow-up study of this issue.

1. Network realization of knowledge and skills: programmers and subtitle teams

The first digital labor to connect with the Internet is undoubtedly the professional knowledge and skills of laborers, which are realized by professional online laborers-programmers. As the world’s second largest software producer after India, China’s IT industry employs more than 5 million people, and a large part of them are programmers, a group known as “code farmers”. From the perspective of the characteristics of the IT industry, its labor output requires the participation of a large number of highly knowledgeable laborers, and it also needs to be realized in an organizational form that is different from the traditional industry.

In recent years, my country’sThe research on programmers has been expanded from the perspectives of team, gender, and interns. Liang Meng’s research points out that the project-based labor method based on network knowledge production and innovation has spawned a new form of team organization within programmers-“virtual team”[13], and the laborer’s own cultural capital—technology, enhances the labor’s sense of autonomy in the labor process of knowledge production[14]; Wang Chengwei and others’ research focuses on a special group of programmers—interns. Compared with regular employees, In the labor relationship of “mentor-interns”, interns realized self-materialization, regarded themselves as countable labor products, and even formed an identification with the Internet beyond reality[15]; Not only that, the existing studies also further show that in the industry of programmers, which is quite cultural and technical, gender discourse in social values ​​is applied to female programs The real dilemma above the staff[16].

Another type of more typical knowledge-enrichment network digital labor type is subtitle group. The subtitle group refers to a non-governmental spontaneous organization that provides subtitles for overseas audio-visual cultural works and publishes them on the domestic Internet free of charge. This is also a field dominated by youth intellectual groups.

Sun Li pointed out that most of the members of the online captioning team in my country are college students, most of whom have a bachelor’s degree or above, or white-collar workers who have graduated from college. What the subtitle group produces is not a simple cultural product of superficial subtitles, but a fascinating culture that combines production and sales, and thus realizes the secondary creation of translation works[17]; it is the unique nature and charm of this labor product that makes a large number of young intellectuals willing to go beyond the employment relationship of traditional labor and use it no less than procedure The organization and satisfaction of paid labor such as employees, to participate in it [18]; Zhang Bin even thinks that the subtitles The labor of the group reflects the return of the digital gift economy in the Internet age to a certain extent[19]. Therefore, the subtitle group is actually an earlier presentation of “crowdsourcing” in the field of China’s Internet.

2. Networking of daily life: shopping, food delivery and online ride-hailing

Taobao, founded in 2003, can be said to be one of the first initiatives to bring Chinese daily life scenes to the Internet. Today, various shopping websites and apps represented by Taobao have become the main areas of daily consumption for Chinese people. In the first half of 2019 alone, the transaction volume of my country’s online retail market reached 4.34 trillion yuan. Youth research in the existing online shopping industry involves less labor, but focuses more on the consumer attributes of youth. The few researches are also biased towards Taobao Village, which is full of rural flavors. Young Taobao shopkeepers have become beneficiaries by virtue of their relative advantages in knowledge, skills and resources.[20].

In contrast, in the online shopping process, another profession that directly contacts customers-courier has attracted more attention from researchers. These low-level young workers who are under the control of a high degree of capital and use high-intensity labor to support the transformation of their social operation mode[21] span>, in different types of (e-commerce direct-operated, third-party direct-operated and third-party franchise) classified labor control Below, it shows differentiated labor-management consensus[22]. It is worth noting that in long-term and stable face-to-face contact, couriers can often use “acquaintance relationships” to resolve different forms of occupational risks[23 ].

In addition to the shopping scene, Internet companies have also used large-scale capital operations to establish various types of information platforms, and other scenes related to the daily life of the masses are also endowed with network characteristics, and they are called “Share economic”. Similar to online shopping, withThe food delivery industry, where food is a consumer product, is under the strong control of multiple entities characterized by beyond-the-horizon management. Workers form a “flat” social network relationship and practice inhumane emotional labor, thereby enjoying the Internet dividend while also enjoying the Internet dividend. It further solidifies its bottom position in the secondary labor market[24].

On the other hand, online car-hailing is one of the most popular digital labor models in recent years. Wu Qingjun believes that the establishment of online car-hailing platforms has not only improved the overall transportation efficiency of society, but also brought new types of labor control. Through three core mechanisms—work autonomy mechanism, salary and incentive mechanism, and star rating mechanism—control the labor process and encourage young ride-hailing drivers to perform excessive labor[25].

3. “Artisans” in the Internet Age: Internet Writers and Video Bloggers

Unlike programmers and subtitle groups who carry out digital labor based on their professional knowledge and skills, young laborers such as Internet writers and video bloggers are more like a group of people living in the Internet age. Craftsmen” use their various non-traditional labor skills to meet the cultural needs of the audience.

Internet writers refer to groups that create novels and essays on the Internet. The “2017 China Internet Literature Development Report” shows that as of the end of 2017, the number of domestic creators on 45 key online literature websites has reached 14 million, of which the number of contracted authors reached 680,000, and 47% were full-time writers.

They have grown up from the grass-roots “Wild Road Literature” of the Internet and moved to the forefront under the dual urging of digital technology and the media market.[26] ; Under the unique profit mechanism, the writing of the network writers on the contract platform has been alienated from mental work to manual work[27]; Although a bunch of well-known writers have emerged from it, and they have frequently appeared on the rich list of Chinese writers with the huge benefits of their popular works, but more writers The hands are just struggling in the online literature platform”Literary wage earners” who make “dreams” are just [28].

With the continuous advancement of Internet technology, the young generation’s way of recording life and disseminating information through the Internet has also developed from text to video, and this has given birth to the video blogger industry. In the beginning, online video bloggers spontaneously recorded their lives through videos and uploaded them to the Internet for dissemination. The emergence of video sites such as Youku, Tudou, and iQiyi made this spontaneous action integrated. Crowdsourcing production of [29], while video bloggers are practicing expansion for website capital, they have completed daily The “realization” of life[30]. In the short video platforms represented by Kuaishou and Douyin, young people achieve both sense of gain and practical benefits through creative work, although they may suffer from video platforms due to the unity of “prosumers”. Double exploitation [31].

4. Show yourself on the screen: anchors

The natural nature of the Internet to cross physical boundaries makes it possible to communicate face-to-face between people in different time and space. Since China entered the “first year of live video broadcasting” in 2016, the female anchor group composed of young women has received the most attention. Due to its unique gender characteristics and labor types, research on this group basically follows the context of emotional labor Unfold.

The research of Tu Yongqian and others analyzed the emotional manufacturing of female anchors through body symbolization, creation of “personality” and reshaping of relationships, thereby mobilizing consumers’ emotions and turning them into a rewarding labor process[32]; in the specific emotional manufacturing process, female anchors use physical display to satisfy consumers’ prying eyes Desire, accompanied by the unique performance, offense and deviance in virtual reality[33]; and performance is the key concept in the emotional labor of female anchors. [34], depth Different performances will produce huge differences in their individual labor experience.

Of course, the world of live webcast is by no means limited to young women who are “lively and beautifully”. The anchors showed the more “weird and strange” side of the real world. “Eating and broadcasting”, which brings stronger sensory stimulation to the audience, is one example. While the anchors are overeating, the audience gets a satisfying or stimulating experience.[35].

Young men are more involved in the live broadcast industry of e-sports. This group of young men with a medium degree of education[36], with a low income, practice and live broadcast with high intensity every day, looking forward to the glory and myth of becoming a head anchor.

With the development of the live broadcast industry, live streaming has begun to become an important source of income for anchors. Therefore, based on a wealth-making myth and game mentality, through performance labor, they interpret the live broadcast into a shopping theater that is different from offline[ 37]. The research by Xu Linfeng and others further pointed out the source of labor control in the live broadcast industry-the salary system based on “popular games”, which also makes the anchors have to accept the consequences of extreme labor commodification and salary dividends. , Still maintaining the false consciousness of “fate independence” [38].

5. Alternative labor for the Internet: fan labor, game power leveling, and network navy

In addition to the above-mentioned digital labor based on the Internet for a living (that is, the above-mentioned labor types originally exist in reality, and the participation of the Internet only expands the content of labor. It only improves labor efficiency.) In addition to , there are many new types of digital labor that are born for the Internet. These labors are not well known to the public, evenIt is a gray area between legal and illegal.

The first is the fan group formed by the online community and its free labor. Strictly speaking, for fans whose youth is the absolute main body, their series of labor around idols is the same as the creative free labor of numerous content production on the Internet. They are based on interest rather than profit, but the labor of fans will be even greater. It mostly involves gift economy and emotional involvement in [39].

Corresponding to fan labor, game leveling is another form of digital labor that blurs the boundaries between production and consumption, work and entertainment. Professional game power levelers actively participate in productive labor in a “voluntary and pleasant” way[40]< /span>, but ultimately had to face the double dilemma caused by lack of interest in games and social marginal pressure.

Different from the aforementioned labor’s legitimacy, the cyber navy is a typical Internet industry wandering in the gray or even black areas, but due to its flexible employment system and low threshold “advantages”, it also attracts a large number of young people to join in. Among them, it has even become one of the most mainstream models of crowdsourced labor in the Internet age. Laborers use “guerrilla” digital labor such as scoring points, filling water, increasing volume, and rewriting orders.[41], trying to influence public opinion on the Internet ecology for employers behind the scenes.

3. Summary: Produce satisfied young workers in uncertainty

To sum up, since 2010, domestic research on youth digital labor has continued the traditional labor research context, and at the same time, it has expanded on many types of labor that have emerged in the context of the reality of network development. What can be noticed from this is that in the ten years of rapid advancement of the mobile Internet, the Internet has become more deeply involved in the daily lives of the Chinese people, and it has also attracted more young people to participate in it, and “driving” them to “produce in uncertainty”. The logical main line of “satisfaction”, to complete their own digital labor practice.

1. Labor Products: Deep Desire Satisfaction

Looking at the above, most of the existing youth digital labor can be regarded as non-material labor, that is, great”The labor of producing the information content and cultural content of goods” as defined by the Lee scholar Lazarato(Lazzarato)[42].

Programmers and subtitle groups and other knowledge and skills cashing online digital workers, whose output is the Internet tools used by consumers or foreign audio-visual works; shopping websites, takeaway riders, online ride-hailing drivers and other services Industry practitioners use the Internet platform to provide consumers with more convenient and efficient daily life services; Internet writers use countless original or “plagiarized” literary works to weave readers a “escape” from the real society. In the world of fiction, video bloggers fill up the free time of netizens with tens of millions of long and short videos every day; on the screen, all kinds of lively or bizarre anchors provide audiences with daily The curious viewing experience that can’t be obtained in life; and the various kinds of alternative labor that only exist on the Internet fill in the special needs of some consumers that exist between white and black and are difficult to meet in the real society.

It is not difficult to see that these labor products are generally developing in the direction of increasing the satisfaction of consumers’ desires, which also invisibly confirms the intensification of the Internet’s intrusion into the daily life of the masses.

At the same time as labor products continue to deepen the satisfaction of consumers’ desires, it is the lowering of the threshold of labor skills for young workers and the gradual commercialization of themselves. In fact, one of the negative effects of technological progress is the decrease in the importance of labor skills relative to workers. The strategy of “separating concept and execution” by the management directly leads to the “deskilling” of workers, and then Deepen the control of the labor process[43], but this is the result of the formation of the network society and its derivatives The extreme desire for the young labor force has never been magnified.

Compared to programmers (education and programming ability) and subtitle groups (Foreign language ability) and other early Internet laborers’ professional skills, the Internetization of daily life scenes directly absorbed many ordinary low-skilled service industry practitioners.

For example, Taobao has attracted a large number of new generation migrant workers to return to their hometowns to start businesses with its advantages of low entry barriers, low technical difficulty and low initial capital.[44 ];

Online car-hailing drivers don’t need to interview, enter a job, sign a contract, training, job assignment, work collaboration, performance appraisal, salary payment and other complicated labor processes. They only need to register and receive orders in two steps. To carry out labor on the [45];

Take video websites as a typical content production platform. In order to maximize the scale of laborers and their labor output, various technical means are used to template and formulate video creation that originally required creativity. Even students and retired women can easily master the corresponding skills and become producers of cultural goods[46];

The mobile Internet era brought about by the fact that the short video platform further reduces the barriers to entry for workers. Anyone only needs to use the mobile phone to record, shoot, and publish in three steps. Publish the work.

In order to better produce labor products that satisfy consumers’ in-depth desires, young laborers even need to contribute their labor to digital labor.

For internet writers, the basic pursuit of literary dreams and artistic style is placed after readers’ preferences[47] span>;

For webcasters, emotions have changed from personal private ownership to a labor strategy for audience performance[48] , Let alone turn the body and even daily life into consumer goods to be viewed[49];

For game leveling, personal original skills(Game technology), the pleasure of free time and the interest of games are all transformed into virtual items[50];

For the network navy, their reputation level is converted into clearly priced, tradable digital capital, and becomes the most important labor tool[51];

For the fan community, not only themselves, but also their social relationships have become part of free labor[52].

It can be said that it is precisely under the premise of such a reduction in labor skills that young laborers are increasingly dependent on the Internet, and thus continue to lose their independence, so that they become fully commercialized laborers.

2. Labor Process: Uncertainty of Growth

Another notable feature of the increasing dependence on networks is the increasing labor uncertainty. This can be seen in existing studies, where young workers continue to enter and exit different industries. Of course, for both labor and management, the low threshold mechanism for laborers to enter and exit the industry functions as a “safety valve”, which reduces the possibility of severe labor conflicts to a certain extent< sup label="remarks">[53]. Specifically, this overall uncertain labor trend is caused by two factors: the extension of the labor relationship chain and the technicalization of labor process control.

The traditional “capital-labor-consumer” ternary labor relationship chain has undergone new changes in the Internet age. Capital has become an Internet platform, and various types of labor intermediary organizations have been added, and then evolved into The quaternary labor relationship chain of “Internet platform-intermediary organization-laborer-consumer”.

From the perspective of technological progress, the Internet platform relying on digital infrastructure and network systems, relying on its superior information processing and resource matching capabilities, has gradually replaced the actual labor market< sup label="remarks">[54]. In this process, capital logic realized the expansion of the network society[55]. It is worth noting that the online platform uses informal employment contracts, the termination of labor security obligations, and a flexible salary payment system And so on, part of the market risk is transferred to individual laborers[56], and this fragile labor relationship , It further magnifies the uncertainty of labor relations. It is precisely under the control of the platform that young laborers for the purpose of content creation have to perform streamlined operations.[57].

The emergence of various intermediary organizations has further deepened this trend. Various guilds and company-type intermediary organizations are named as brokerage companies or studios, aiming to provide publicity and traffic to host broadcasters or video bloggers, etc. Service, but the practice of labor monitoring, not only extracts a large proportion of the income of young laborers in return, but also directly participates in the content management of the labor products of the anchor or video blogger. The result is bound to give birth to the typification of cultural products And vulgarization.

The emergence of Internet digital technology has not only reconstructed the labor relationship chain in organizational relationships, but also provided a new technological means of labor process control-algorithms that “advance with the times”. As Sun Ping’s research pointed out, algorithms have placed the labor process under nuanced digital supervision through increasing precision and standardized management, so that technical rationality can ultimately manage “human emotions” and realize the value of labor. Maximize and efficient [58].

Take the digital technology monitoring of the express delivery industry as an example: the express company bundles the courier with the courier through the data management system, and the background can monitor the location of each courier, the amount of delivery and other work conditions in real time.< span class="text-remarks">[59]; the evaluation mechanism derived from shopping websites draws consumers into the closed loop of labor control and participates together Into the monitoring of online ride-hailing drivers, takeaways and other laborers[60][61]; and In the case of network anchors, the goals and means of labor control have turned to “popularity” and “gifts”, which can be directly quantified as economic benefits.[62][63]; under the control of technical labor, the flattening advocated in the engineer culture The organizational structure and the democratic decision-making mechanism are constantly alienating [64], not only has it become all labor dependent on the network platform The collective consciousness of “fate independence” of the writers, together with the creation of the dream mythology of a very small number of hits, has jointly concealed the exploiting facts of the platform.

3. Logic main line: production meets in uncertainty

American sociologist Daniel Bell(Daniel Bell) in his classic “The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society” is not without optimism predicting that in the information society established with the advancement of science and technology, there will be an intellectual class composed of well-trained and talented technological workers as a new class. Guide the development of post-industrial capitalist society[65]. As for the reconstruction of labor forms brought about by the Internet, Hart and Negri have high hopes. They believe that the Internet has enabled the formation of new norms in the labor production process—information, communication, and cooperation, which will be new Social forms provide potential revolutionary subjects[66].

Unfortunately, just like Vincent Mosco(Vincent Mosco) In summary, mankind’s adoration of technological progress, and longing for it to be a “myth” that is sufficient to achieve a subversive promotion of society as a whole, is as long as the history of mankind[67], while the Internet and digital technology onlyIt’s just one of them.

The above-mentioned research has in fact ruthlessly falsified that at the beginning of the birth of the Internet, scholars had fantasies about its decentralized and equalized expectations. The advent of the Internet age and the advancement of digital technology have not only failed to solve the original labor control problem while creating new forms of labor and even social forms.(highlight And respect the real subject status of the laborers), instead, it creates new troubles(makes more people fall into the tighter woven of capital and technology Labor Control Network).

As Marx once pointed out, the direct factor that causes labor commodification may be attributed to the degree of labor reproduction’s dependence on the market. This is also the fundamental reason for the intervention of digital technology to realize the evolution from labor commodification to labor commodification[68] As a result, the Internet highlights its power as an alienating force that is de-embedded in reality. This power acts on the digital labor of youth, and follows the logical main line of “produce satisfaction in uncertainty”. (see Figure 1 for details).

The network, through the extension of the labor relationship chain and the technicalization of labor control, has spawned uncertain growth in the labor process, and with the help of the lowering of labor skills threshold and the commodification of labor, it has promoted its production to meet consumer desires. The product of labor. Together, the two have deepened the dependence of young workers on digital technology and the Internet, and resolved their awareness of “de-commodification”.

Fourth, reflection: re-examining youth’s labor issues

Custer believes:The labor process is the core of the social structure[69]. What needs to be pointed out is that the problems faced by young people (especially labor that touches the basic operating rules of society) will not only be in a specific The rise of the time point as a public issue of the whole society will continue to play an important role in the long river of time based on the life course of the young generation, and even several generations. After all, “the unstable state of work makes people see economic output as an overwhelming and decisive force, while at the same time failing to generate any expectations for the future” [70].

When the cultural consumer products produced by the Internet are becoming vulgar or even vulgar to satisfy consumers’ sensory stimulation, when labor is stripped of the skill attributes of young workers, their time, emotion, body, hobbies, When daily life and social relations are all dissimilated into pure commodities, when capital drives various intermediary organizations to continuously extend the labor relationship chain and “hands down” young laborers, when the advancement of network technology is applied to laborers’ When the real well-being of both labor and consumer is tightly controlled, when young laborers are seduced and indulged by the myth of wealth creation that seems to be within reach but will eventually be broken, youth digital labor has become a must in contemporary China. Practical issues that are highly valued.

In summary, at the moment when “TV watching is labor” has quietly evolved into “Internet is labor”[71] , the Internet and digital have actually filled all the gaps in daily life, and they are irreversible. Further revealing the social meaning of young workers working in the Internet scene and seeking a solution to the commercialization of young workers need to be re-examined in theoretical innovation and field research.

[Funded Project: This article is a research result of the Humanities and Social Sciences Youth Fund Project “Research on the Changes of Suburban Social Space from the Perspective of Daily Life” (Project Number: 19YJC840029)]< /span>


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This article is from WeChat official account:Chinese Youth Studies (ID: china-youth-study) , author: Luo Feng (modern China Research Center of East China Normal University city / urban development Research Assistant of Research Institute)