Archive for » March, 2009 «

Gender and the economic market

Via my friend Doug, a fascinating abstract from Haas (Cal) researchers about the invisible hands of the market being gendered:

Boys will be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence, and Common Stock Investment

Brad Barber and Terrance Odean
Theoretical models of financial markets built on the assumption that some investors are overconfident yield one central prediction: overconfident investors will trade too much. We test this prediction by partitioning investors on the basis of a variable that provides a natural proxy for overconfidence – gender. Psychological research has established that men are more prone to overconfidence than women. Thus, models of investor overconfidence predict that men will trade more and perform worse than women. Using account data for over 35,000 households from a large discount brokerage firm, we analyze the common stock investments of men and women from February 1991 through January 1997. Consistent with the predictions of the overconfidence models, we document that men trade 45 percent more than women and earn annual risk-adjusted net returns that are 1.4 percent less than those earned by women. These differences are more pronounced between single men and single women; single men trade 67 percent more than single women and earn annual risk-adjusted net returns that are 2.3 percent less than those earned by single women.

Full article in PDF

digital piecework: a mockery of creative industries

Lilly’s intervention into the Digital Turk has gotten me thinking about this kind of labor as the same type of digital piecework that women of color have done since the early days of digital culture.  My grandmother worked in electronics assembly right after the war because she saw an ad recruiting Japanese American women as workers–this was right after the war in Santa Clara, when many of them had returned from internment camps.  Thus, they were a fairly emiserated and jobless group of workers who had an excellent reputation for manual dexterity.  As Donna Haraway wrote years ago, women of color, especially transnational ones, have always done the piecework of the digital age.

The Mechnical Turk makes digital piecework seem game-like, done on one’s own time, but it is also a mockery of the “creative industries” form of labor, done for love/interest/personal development rather than for the (meager) pay.  Amazon is a platform for consumption, and hosting the Turk there makes working that way look like play.  Lots of types of sweated/semi-sweated labor like this seem like play rather than work, and are also a mockery of the creative industries–like gold farming.

Lilly knows that I am obsessed with gold farming, because it is sweated labor done by Asian men in actual sweatshop conditions, but also because it is so overtly about play as work.  These jobless and unemployable Chinese men play World of Warcraft and other MMO’s and sell their avatars and virtual money through third party virtual goods resellers like IGE.  If we look at what they do, it’s also a mockery of the creative industries that the digital revolution was supposed to make available to so many.

In film and television studies, there’s new interest in studying “below the line” workers, like secretaries, script girls, craft workers, and personal assistants.  So many of them are women, and they are so seldom talked about–they’re not auteurs or stars.  If we look at digital games like other media, can we talk about gold farmers as “below the line” workers in the digital entertainment industry?  They make the “play” of other more privileged people more easy and fun, they do the boring stuff that needs to get done to make the game accessible to busy Americans and even busy Asians who want to play at a high level but don’t have time to earn all this gold, and they are despised as a workforce for these very reasons.  Are they Mechanical Turks?  To free associate a bit, the Turk was an Oriental–exotic, inscrutable, and tricky.  Chinese gold farmers are so marginalized, they are pallet-sharing, bleary eyed information workers a world away whose work is always viewed as harmful and antisocial in world of warcraft, yet their labor is essential; 20% of players have bought gold, and they are tolerated because Blizzard knows that without them many players would drop out in frustration (Mia Consalvo’s book _Cheating_, MIT Press, discusses this strategy–game manufacturers often leak cheat codes and tolerate farmers because otherwise new players would get too frustrated and stop being good customers.)

I wrote a paper about this which will appear in a communication studies journal.  I’m posting it here because the journal is a paper journal and isn’t out yet. I wrote this article almost exactly a year ago, and I thank Difference Engine’s editors for letting me post it here so that people can read it. Any feedback welcome, as always.

WordPress doesn’t like my attachment, so I’m having to link it: click Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft to get the pdf.

Online / offline: Different spheres?

Over at witty title pending, sky posts:

In some senses,it’s true that things work differently online – one of the most important aspects of this (for my work) is the ability to easily copy and share information. However, online and offline space are never truly separate. Part of what I’m arguing in my thesis is that even movements that don’t use the Internet much should care about what happens online, because it will end up affecting their work. It’s also important to remember that the abstract space of bits and bytes that is represented on cyberthrillers by flows of bright green numbers is based on real infrastructure. Fibreoptic cables and satellites and huge banks of servers.

The implications of this are manifold. The IT industry produces a not-insignificant amount of carbon emissions, in part because it has to run and cool those huge banks of servers. And all those devices we use to access ‘cyberspace’; mobile phones, PDAs, netbooks, laptops, PCs, are made somewhere, and have to go somewhere when we throw them out. There are plenty of stories on the problems associated with recycling electronics (try here or here or here), and probably plenty of articles on the terribly conditions which electronics workers face. A new report has just come out on the latter issue (via BoingBoing and Difference Engines).

I’d thought about the online / offline divide related to some of my research on virtual worlds, but labor and resource consumption implications of splitting these spheres, obscuring the ways they’re entangled and related, had not occurred to me. It’s almost as if talking about online culture and its supposed immateriality actually happily suppresses the data centers, power, chip manufacturing labor, coltan civil wars, and toxic waste that goes into these things.

Art: Stiching waveforms

From chotipyari, 13 conversations each one minute long displayed through embroidery:

Others can comment more intelligently on this than me, but the juxtaposition of a craft form typically genered female with the waveforms that remind me of cold war analog inscriptions on oscilloscopes (still part of life in many labs settings) creates a sense of surprise. The surprise raises those issues of gender and taken-for-granted associations of visual tropes like waveforms.