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Creating Consumer-Cyborgs: Digital Platforms as Infrastructures for Extraction

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In 2019, the founder of the Indonesian platform company ‘Gojek’ described how their app creates a ‘cyborg in our consumers’: using the digital infrastructure to summon goods and services, book on-demand drivers, and make digital payments using the integrated payment system. Implicitly, the app, phone, and driver tasked with doing things on your behalf all become part of your extended cyborg self. In this paper, I examine how platform companies such as Gojek implement digital infrastructures atop existing informal transactional practices rendering them visible for extraction for the consumer-cyborg, but also how this cyborg itself becomes a site of value extraction for the company.
Firstly, I argue that the app overlays an existing social infrastructure, namely the loosely organised network of motorcycle taxis called ojek. Inserting itself as an interpretive interface, the company introduces stabilising parameters of exchange between drivers and their customers. Thus, they also position themselves as the access point to their consumer-cyborgs, a critical resource for drivers whose labour they now control and thus extract value from.
Secondly, I argue that the privatised money tokens used within these digital ecosystems materialise the financial transactions themselves in the form of data traces. Replacing the transient exchange of cash between driver and customer, the consumer-cyborg also becomes a way for the platform companies to extract value from these temporary transactional constellations.
This paper draws on ethnographic data collection through 6 months of fieldwork in Yogyakarta, Indonesia between 2018 and 2019. This fieldwork encompasses extensive interviews with both customers and service providers using Indonesian platform apps, as well as representatives from the companies themselves.
Drawing on scholarship on social infrastructure and economic anthropology, this paper uses the concept of the ‘consumer-cyborg’ to draw attention to the extractive intersections of digital payments and the on-demand labour of the platform economy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateOct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021
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    Research areas

  • consumer-cyborg, social infrastructure, platform economy, digital payment, on-demand labour

ID: 86386035