New Criticals

Contained within a CAPTCHA interaction are a litany of key themes that confront the economics and modes of labor in a dominant, post-industrial, late-capitalist society like the United States. Certain ideological boundaries are constructed around what is proper use of free services, as organizations lack the comprehensive legal or juridical support to make such activities explicitly criminal, and instead code them as undesirable, unlawful (in the court of public opinion) and dangerous. The user, then, is not just implicated in a war on spam, but drafted into service for the cause every time they solve a CAPTCHA. That service is not meaningless action, but productive activity.

CAPTCHAs are not just about spam, they are about knowledge, micro-labor, affect, digitization, informization, and free time, all taking place on the relatively new economic sphere of the Internet. No longer the responsibility of the company to protect their services, the impetus rests upon the user to prove to the company that he or she will be of service to the service, that they deserve the service, that they will do no harm. Forget money – there is plenty of it around - the user exchanges something of true value: information. Free is a misnomer.