Monthly Archives: May 2008

Writing for the Turk

A few weeks ago, I netstumbled again upon Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a for-hire crowdsourcing system that I remember causing a brief buzz when it came out in 2005 or 2006. I was deep in dissertation tunnel vision at the time, not wanting to let myself be distracted, but I remember thinking it held interesting possibilities as a highly decentralized market for immaterial labor, and wondered how it might connect to what I’d been saying about the economics of writing.

So I’ve finally caught a short breather from the end-of-the-semester crunch — I’m presently sitting in the hall while my plebes are about 25 minutes into taking their term-end examinations and typing busily away — and did some poking around. Interesting stuff. The job requester command-line interface stuff is a little daunting, but on the worker side, there are — as of this morning — 111 jobs available with the keyword “write” in the listing. Which made me wonder once more: how much should you pay for a C+ paper?

Or, OK, to be a little less opaque about it: the Amazon Mechanical Turk offers one system of thinking about the value of what they call Human Intelligence Tasks. In looking over those Human Intelligence Tasks, I think they’re certainly a form of Hardt and Negri’s immaterial labor, but of a somewhat different order than, say, writing an essay. Yet some of them — e.g., writing reviews — come close to the types of low-stakes tasks we sometimes assign in FYC. And “stakes” is yet another term related to value.

Curious. Further investigation needed.

A Libelous Display / Blissfully Astray

It’s that day today, one of my favorite days, of budding trees and fecundity, of celebrating work and celebrating play. My lawn is already overgrown, the daffodils in the back yard come and gone with the crocus and bluebells and now the tulips in full bloom, the first sprigs of green on the grape vine.

There are, as you might expect, stirrings among the cadets, as well. Classroom discussions bubble over easily into jokes or teasing or just into that uncontainable energy, and today, I let it go. How could I not? I had an observer in the classroom, evaluating my teaching, and my lesson plan called for small group work in the second half of class, and the groups got loud and excited and sometimes off-topic — but it’s May! How can you not let that energy go?

It’s May, the lusty month of May
That darling month when everyone throws self-control away
It’s time to do a wretched thing or two
And try to make each precious day one you’ll always rue

It was a good class, however blissfully astray we might have gone.

It was also my morning at the shelter for the week, and the cats are as wound up as the cadets, full of impulsiveness and energy, fat and noisy Clark making the rounds of the room for the first time and falling into the tub, little megasophagus Willie climbing up top to bat at cross-eyed Laverne, and Sean and Joey and Ben performing their alpha-male drama on the reduced stage of the counter by the sink with no one else paying attention.

It’s May. It’s May.

And Tink and Zeugma are five years old today.