Virtual Demand

Paul McCann '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

Cyberspace & Critical Theory

Clark said any sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic; he might as well have said any sufficiently sophisticated simulation is indistinguishable from reality. It it walks like a duck, with that funny swaying motion, quacks like a duck, has feathers, swims in water, and eats bread crumbs given to it by old people at the park, who's to say it's any different from a duck? There's the small matter of the fusion core powering it, but that's just details.

So, other than the glowing red eyes and metal skeletons robotic clones are required by international law to possess, they aren't really that different from their originals once you get the hang of making them. But what about things that are abstract or virtual to begin with, such as religions and social forces? What happens when people cease to create anything that isn't virtual (or, as Baudrillard fears, they already have)? Apparently, work becomes more desirable than product:

Likewise with work. The spark of production, the violence of its stake no longer exists. Everybody still produces, and more and more, but work has subtly become something else: a need (as Marx ideally envisaged it, but not at all in the same sense), the object of a social "demand," like leisure, to which it is equivalent in the general run of life's options. A demand exactly proportional to the loss of stake in the work process. The same change in fortune as for power: the scenario of work is there to conceal the fact that the work-real, the production-real, has disappeared. And for that matter so has the strike-real too, which is no longer a stoppage of work, but its alternative pole in the ritual scansion of the social calendar. It is as if everyone has "occupied" their work place or work post, after declaring the strike, and resumed production, as is the custom in a "self-managed" job, in exactly the same terms as before, by declaring themselves (and virtually being) in a state of permanent strike.

Apparently I am on strike even as a write this, and traditional basic assumptions surrounding the separation of the concept of work have utterly failed humanity.


  1. Are you working right now, or are you on strike? What does that mean?
  2. Who makes the food?
  3. How does the virtualization of labor affect wealth?
  4. If work really isn't necessary, why do people keep doing it? Why does this social demand arise?


Baudrillard, Jean. "Simulation and Simulacra"in Selected Writings Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. 166-184.

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Last modified 12 October 2006