The people’s disruption
“Innovation” is in very bad odor these days. “Disruption” is even more disreputable. But as tech and the global south researcher Rida Qadri writes in Wired, “innovation” isn’t limited to inventing unregulated banks and calling them “fintech” and “disruption” is more than just misclassifying employees as contractors.
Qadri studies workers who are seizing the means of computation, reverse-engineering and repurposing the apps that are meant to keep them in bondage and figuring out how to set themselves free. Her research on gig drivers in Jakarta is essential reading:
Indonesian drivers have banded together to build clubhouses that serve as break-rooms, union halls, tech workshops and scooter maintenance depots. These centers are the birthplace of “tuyul” apps, which allow workers to resist algorithmic “optimization” and adapt their working conditions to improve their pay and safety.
In her Wired piece, Qadri gives examples of other “tech workers” — that is, low-waged, casualized workers who are dispatched and managed by apps — who use technology to take back control, from “farmers who strike against a smart city plan” to riders who band together to get back their stolen scooters.
This is mutual aid, with code. It is every bit as innovative and disruptive as Uber or Amazon, but because it is done by workers, rather than to workers, it is not recognized as such. Indeed, when workers modify the apps that script their movements, they’re called “criminals,” not “innovators.”
Take Doordash’s smear campaign against Para, an app that let delivery drivers find out how much a job paid before they took it (Doordash hides compensation from drivers in hopes of tricking them into taking unprofitable runs):
Doordash called Para a criminal app, baselessly accused it of identity theft, and insisted that drivers had no right to know how much they were going to get paid before they committed to a job.