New Criticals

Turing’s digital computers of the future were theoretically capable of mimicking humans. Now, to subvert digital security measures, humans both mimic computers and design computer programs to work like humans. This would not have been lost on Turing, whose test complicated the bio/technical divide and played on and with (anxieties around) electro-organic boundaries. The computer has aggregated previously disparate relationships – tool, machine, luxury item and recreational object – into one. In essence, though, CAPTCHAs open us to thinking about the state of work and labor in a post-industrial capitalist country whose job sector is characterized by mass unemployment, highly speculative, digitized and unstable financial markets, the dominance of the service and technology sectors, and founded on/funded by a total reliance on both abstract and concrete information. Labor has always been in a precarious position in Post-Fordist/global capitalism, but work online raises the bar.

On to Marx!


[1] Signed into law in 2003, the CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act attempted to craft definitions, regulations and punishments for spam. It applies to commercial email and requires a few things: the header must show sending source, destination, and routing information and cannot contain false or misleading information, non-deceptive subject lines, clear identification as advertisement, the inclusion of a return address, clear notice and protocol for stopping future emails, and a valid geographical postal address from the sender. The CAN-SPAM Act says just that – one can spam. Though not adhering to the principles is punishable under the law, it does not address the un-solicited, non-commercial bulk emails that are the more common manifestations of spam. CAN-SPAM is generally thought of as overreaching, difficult to enforce, and ineffective. Simply put, spam is not illegal.

[2] This illuminates an interesting aspect of the Internet and associated technology: an information paradox. The most unique information (name, address, phone number) is also the most unstable. No one verifies that information.

[3] Which just so happens to coincide with the spread of the Internet as we know it today and the rise of the affordable personal computer.

[4] He actually underestimated amounts of storage and processing power, but overestimated his 30% success rate for the computer.

[5] Scrapers are computer programs that scan the web automatically for email addresses embedded as clear text. The program will read, process, store and then subsequently spam that address.

**Adapted from a thesis submitted to the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, under advisement from Alex Galloway,  in New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.**