Friday, May 4

questions about invisibility and value

this is a fascinating and enlightening and somehow very important thing to note, I think:

"...the platform replaces labor that was previously invisible. We have a hard time figuring out what Facebook actually is because we have a hard time admitting that at least part of what it supplanted is emotional labor—hard and valuable work that no one wants to admit was work to begin with."

it's from an article by journalist Sarah Jeong about why it's such an ordeal to extricate ourselves from facebook once we start letting it connect us to people and groups and events and things.

this particular passage above is not the only thing that has pushed me toward thinking about invisible labor, lately (there was this call for papers last fall, for one thing, and various feminist chatterings on twitter, also). but this has me also asking why we don't want to admit that social/emotional labor is labor at all.

what makes it so difficult for society at large to "count" these things—Jeong lists things like keeping address books up to date, knocking on doors to make invitations to neighbors, and putting together cards to mail out for holidays—as work? do we feel obligated to count them as fun, instead? as leisure or play? is it because the social value resulting from all that work has always been enough to compensate for it, such that the work itself seemed like its own reward in a way? or maybe we feel like categorizing holiday cards and such as work would open up too many wheedling excuses for us not to do all these social-connection-making things anymore?

is it because social-connection-making activities are coded as domestic and therefore feminine and therefore "less important" than work you might go into an office somewhere to do?

even if the answer to that rather loaded question is yes, I am still going to ask why.

invisibility serves a purpose sometimes. it can be an awesome superpower, enabling accomplishments that might not get accomplished otherwise. or so the stories say.

or invisibility can be oppressive and dehumanizing. isolating. life-ruining. 

how do you tell the difference? are there times when it's both at the same time?

has anyone written a superhero story about a lonely, invisible-turning vigilante who is both empowered and crippled by his abilities? probably. I haven't read any H. G. Wells in a long time.

{ green treetops blocking the sun }

when is it valuable and affirming to be noticed, acknowledged, seen, and appreciated? and when is it valuable, even more empowering, not to be seen or noticed at all?

and does someone have to see you doing a thing to value the effort you put into it? is seeing/valuing the results at all the same as seeing/valuing the effort?

this reminds me suddenly of black boxes + related thoughts from Glasgow four years ago. (maybe it's terribly self-involved to enjoy rereading my own writing so much but I really enjoy re-reading that post.) black boxes hide things. sometimes that's useful. sometimes it's frustrating. or, as in this Invisible Bread comic, it's just really weird. 

part of my brain is telling the other part to stop asking questions and think of more concrete examples of this to talk about. I think I will, eventually. but tonight... I just want to wonder about the best ways to crack open black boxes like Facebook or Google, and whether the cracks will break them forever or not. when is the impenetrable blackness of any given magical black-box tool actually essential to the functioning of the tool, and when is it not? is the opacity of a black box correlated in any way with the amounts of labor it might be erasing or replacing? if what functions as a black box to one person is actually pretty transparent to another person, what does that mean? and do we ever black box ourselves and keep our emotional labor hidden on purpose, on accident, or out of some social pressure to keep pretending that it isn't really actually "work" work?

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