3.1.C. The Hacker Ethic or ‘work as play’

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3.1.C. The Hacker Ethic or ‘work as play’

In section 3.2 we will attempt to show the contradictory nature of the relationship between capitalism and peer to peer processes. It needs P2P to thrive, but is at the same threatened by it. A similar contradiction takes place in the sphere of work. We said before how in the industrial, ‘Fordist’ model, the worker was considered an extension of the machine. Another way of saying this, is that intelligence was located in the process, but that the worker himself was deskilled, he was required to be a ‘dumb body’, following instructions. The worker had to sell his labor in order to survive, and meaning could only be found in the activity of working itself, as a means of survival for the family, as a way of social integration, as a means of obtaining identity through one’s social role. But finding meaning in the content of the work itself was exceptional. In post-Fordism important changes and reversals occur . Today, the worker is supposed to communicate and cooperate, to have a capacity to solve problems. He is required not only to use his intelligence, but also has to engage his full subjectivity. Certainly this increases the possibility to find fulfillment and meaning through work, but that would be to paint a too rosy picture. Inside the company, the quest for fulfillment is often contradicted by the empty purpose of the company itself, especially as efficiency thinking, short termism and a sole focus on profit, are taking hold as the main priorities . Peer to peer processes characteristic of the project teams are in tension with the hierarchical, feudal-like nature of the management by objectives models , whose 'information scarcity'-based model is becoming counterproductive even on capital's own terms . Psychological pressure and stress levels are very high, since the worker has now full responsibility and very high targets. One could say that instead of exploiting the body of the worker, as was the case in industrial capitalism, it is now the psyche being exploited, and stress-related diseases have replaced industrial accidents. But this is not all: the productivity model and modes of efficiency thinking have left the factory to diffuse throughout society. It is not uncommon to manage one’s family and children and household according to that model. Dual-career parents come home tired and stressed to children that have spent their day time in institutions since their very early age and have little occasion to spend 'quality time' together; and are managed (or manage themselves) like 'human resources' in a very competitive environment. An increasing number of human relations (such as dating) and creative activities have been commoditized and monetized. As the pressure within the corporate time sphere intensifies through the hyper competition based model of neoliberalism, learning and other necessary activities to remain creative and efficient at work have been exported to private time. Thus paradoxically, the Protestant work ethic has been exacerbated, or as Pekka Himanen (Himanen,2001) would have it in his Hacker Ethic , there has been a ‘Friday-isation of Sunday’ going on. In other words, the values and practices of the productive sphere, the sphere of the workweek including Friday, defined by efficiency, have taken over the private sphere, the sphere of the weekend, Sunday, which was supposed to be outside of that logic. But even within the corporate sphere itself, these developments have lead to a widespread dissatisfaction of the workforce. Interesting work is being done in investigating the new forms of network sociality, as for example by Andreas Wittel, but he also writes that this form of sociality, which he contrasts with community , is geared to the creation and protection of proprietary information. This is in sharp contrast with the Peer to Peer sociality, and thus, focuses on the exacerbation of the Protestant work ethic, and its cultural effects, rather than on the reaction against it. Similarly, Pekka Himanen will not distinguish between the entrepreneurs and the knowledge workers.

And this is precisely the important hypothesis of a Peer to Peer sociality: new subjectivities and intersubjectivities (which we will discuss later), are creating a counter-movement in the form of a new work ethic: the hacker ethic (see also Kane, 2003). As mass intellectuality increases through formal and informal education, and due to the very requirements of the new types of immaterial work, meaning is no longer sought in the sphere of salaried work, but in life generally, and not through entertainment alone, but through creative expression, through ‘work’, but outside of the monetary sphere. Occasionally, and it was especially the case during the new economy boom, companies try to integrate such methods, the so-called ‘Bohemian’ model. This explains to a large part the rise of the Open Sources production method. In the interstices of the system, between jobs, on the job when there is free time, in academic circles, or supported by social welfare, new use value is being created. Or more recently, by rival IT companies who are understanding the efficiency of the model and seeing it as a way to break the monopoly of Microsoft software. But it is done through a totally new work ethic, which is opposed to the exacerbation of the Protestant work ethic. And as it was first pioneered by the community of ‘passionate programmers, the so-called hackers, it is called ‘the hacker ethic’. Himanen (Himanen, 2004) explains a few of its characteristics :

- "time is not rigidly separated into work and non-work; intensive work periods are followed by extensive leave taking, the latter necessary for intellectual and creative renewal; there is a logic of self-unfolding at work, workers look for projects at which they feel energized and that expands their learning and experience in desired directions; participation is voluntary; learning is informal and continuous; the value of pleasure and play are crucial; the project has to have social value and be of use to a wider community; there is total transparency, no secrets; there is an ethic that values activity and caring; creativity, the continuous surpassing of oneself in solving problems and creating new use value, is paramount"

In open source projects, these characteristics are fully present; in a for-profit environment they may be partly present but enter into conflict with the different logic of a for-profit enterprise.