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Richard Barbrook
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Hard Work
part 2

Hypermedia is being developed through the collective effort of many millions of people. Despite its hi-tech basis, the construction of cyberspace in part depends on some very traditional forms of working. For instance, large numbers of semi-skilled manual workers have to dig holes in the road so that the fibre-optic grid can be built. Other people need to labour on assembly-lines making the computers needed for receiving, manipulating and transmitting information. Yet, at the same time, hypermedia also is facilitating the emergence of innovative ways of working. Much of its content is being produced by digital artisans. By spending many long hours in front of their screens, these artist-engineers are creating the aesthetics and writing the code for the new hypermedia products and services. Their design skills and cultural imagination are now at the centre of the process of making hypermedia part of everyday life.

As with other sectors of cultural production, digital artisans are faced with the problems of working within a late-twentieth century capitalist economy. They have to negotiate their way through the maze of interlocking corporations, state regulations, copyrights, health & safety issues, legal contracts, tax demands and so on. At this stage of modernity, we only seem to be able to work together successfully through the mediation of reified social relations. Yet, hypermedia does facilitate more flexible ways of organising our labour. The Net itself is the result of a synergetic miscegenation of state, corporate and d.i.y. initiatives. The importance of artisan labour within the virtual economy demonstrates how hypermedia is helping to break down the previously rigid polarisation between commercial and community, state and market, proletarian and bourgeois.

The digital artisans do not labour simply to support themselves financially. Their days and nights of creative effort are slowly integrating hypermedia into the daily lives of everyone within the developed world. At some point in the near future, the hype over hypermedia will disappear. A minority of people are already sending e-mail, using CD-roms and browsing the Web on a regular basis. Over the next few years, many more will be using the Net and other digital technologies for work, entertainment and education. As Buckminster Fuller said, a good technology is successful when it has become transparent. The skilled work of the digital artisans is slowly transforming hypermedia into an essential part of our everyday lives. They will have succeeded in this task when people use hypermedia without noticing how strange and wonderful these new tools are. One day, hypermedia will be as prosaic and banal as the electric light, the washing machine or the vacuum cleaner.

 
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