It is now evident that information and communication technologies (ICTs) are central to global capitalism.
During the 1990s and early 2000s four distinct subsectors emerged. Hardware corporations such as Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems and Compaq produced chips, boards, routers, servers and other infrastructural components.
Other corporations wrote software applications, developed operational systems and installed network architectures (think Microsoft, Intuit, Oracle and Novell). Internet and dot.com companies such as America On-Line, Amazon, eBay and Yahoo attracted speculative and longer term investment.
Land-line based telecommunication corporations such as AT&T, Cable and Wireless, DeutscheTtelecom and Nippon T&T developed or purchased internet services, cable and broadband connections satellite hook-ups and wireless communication services.
Industrially based electronic corporations invested in the manufacture of semi-conductors, fibre- optics, software , wireless phones and other ICT –related products (eg Motorola, Nokia, Samsung,Toshiba).
By 2003 18 of the world`s top 100 non-financial corporations came from the ICT sector. Since then the spread of social media networking has introduced us to the power and reach of social media corporations.
Google and Facebook are the new behemoths of global capitalism.
At the same time, the burgeoning ICT sector engaged with a media-entertainment system transformed by convergences of technology ,content and cultural consumption. Advances in internet applications, digital television and mobile telephones have blurred traditional distinctions between broadcasting, computing , telecommunictions and consumer electronics.
All of these technological changes drove the worldwide electronic networking of finance, production and consumption. As a result transnational corporations came to dominate every sector of capitalism.
If my account here is accurate, vital questions arise.
What is the relationship between global capitalism and the global worker? Who actually makes the gadgets that populate our shiny hi-tech world? What happens to the wageless poor and the precariously employed who have been ejected by the labour-saving algorithms of production?
The first two of these questions have been addressed by Nick Dyer-Witheford in `CyberMarx `(1999) and subsequent writings. For him the global worker is, broadly speaking, quite distinct from older images of the Fordist, male , blue collar worker producing ,say, automobiles in the industrial heartlands of Western countries. Instead, the global worker arises from a complex division of labour strongly associated with the service sector, the incorporation of women workers, the growth of production centres outside the West and flows of migrant labour.
New jobs and occupations, with many hierarchies, are connected directly to information-communication technologies as indicated by the rapid growth of internet and cell phone use. The computer industry, for example, contains a software sector incorporating business applications and digital games designed and engineered in North America, Western Europe and Japan.
Programming jobs have been outsourced to subcontractors in Eastern Europe, South Asia and South East Asia. In the hardware sector, salaried engineers and architects design and prototype phone, gaming and specialist computer devices. Assembly of these devices has been performed in Central America, Eastern Europe and southern China.
In his latest work Nick Dyer-Witheford extends and deepens this analysis. ` Cyber-proletariat : global labour in the digital vortex`(2015) is a vividly written tour-de-force. Readers are introduced to subcontracted production lines in Foxconn factories throughout China.
Workers rapidly assemble Apple`s IPhones during long shifts aware that suicide nets have been built outside the windows to prevent escape.
On the edges of Silicon Valley, behind the techno-hype of IT entrepreneurs Mexican migrant workers assemble circuit boards.
In the Eastern Congo enslaved labourers dig out the specialist minerals necessary for the manufacture of consumer electronics devices.
In the mega- slums of Asian, African and South American cities children pick through e-waste disposal sites for items of re-usable value.
Dyer-Witheford`s response to the question of labour-saving technologies and structural employment lies at the heart of this work. He points to a `moving contradiction` which `manifests as, on the one hand, the encompassing of the global population by networked supply chains and agile production systems, making labour available to capital on a global scale, and, on the other, as a drive towards the development of of adept automata and algorithmic software that render such labour redundant.`(p15).
Yet, as Dyer Witheford also notes, ICTs and social media have helped to facilitate factory uprisings in China, popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East ,a worldwide protest movement against the `one percent` (Occupy) along with an anti-corporate ,anti-militarist hacktivist culture encapsulated by Wikileaks. And, the precarious and wageless poor are perfectly aware of how global elites live and where they live.
Anybody interested in further reflection on the ways we live now and where we might be headed are urged to purchase this book and attend the advertised lecture.