If you looked in the jobs pages in the early 1990s, you’d see adverts for “Mac Operators”. A Mac Operator would use the only Apple Macintosh in the company to do design work using Illustrator, Photoshop and Quark at a low rate of pay.
When I got to art school at around that time I begged and borrowed access to Macs to make art using Photoshop and Illustrator. I acted out the role of the Mac Operator (rather than alchemist, merchant or factory worker) without realising it to make art.
The Mac Operator is a kind of knowledge worker. Knowledge work is post-industrial work. Another example of post-industrialism is brand-based outsourcing. The production of Jeff Koon’s artistic brand is outsourced. But Koons is a manager rather than a worker.
Mac Operators were representative producers of mass culture at that time. But Web 2.0 means that everyone can now use a computer to produce culture as part of the crowd. Outsourcing has become crowdsourcing. Mac Operators, like sign painters, are not now a contemporary phenomenon.
I started out remixing images, and I continue to do so, aided now by the Creative Commons licences so beloved of Web 2.0. I am still sat at a computer producing art as an individual, rather than using the crowd to do so. But I am using a GNU laptop rather than a Power Mac desktop system.
The laptop-based knowledge work figure is the “laptop warrior” or the Bay-area coffee-shop wifi leeching “bedouin”. These are the people who start the Web 2.0 companies and web applications that the crowd use to produce their culture.
So I haven’t ended up as far from the contemporary creative practice of computing as I’d feared. And I’m not criticising artists who mimic Web 2.0 strategies without adding anything to them, when I do criticise them, from a position of historical irrelevance. I’m just reflecting a different aspect of current computer-based production.