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Tag Archives: prosumer

This was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology and is co-authored with Jenny Davis – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

Can an identity have a homepage?

Many have long argued that identity is the result of both  (1) performative work on the part of the individual as well as (2) the influence of society with all of its history, structures, institutions, norms and so on. We do not produce our identities in a vacuum, they are influenced by society. And we do not blindly consume our identities from the options given to us; humans are complex beings who creatively tweak, mix and remix to achieve something always unique. Not just producers or consumers,  it is best to think of ourselves as identity prosumers. Here, we will show how this process is made most explicit when identities are prosumed through social media technologies. Read More »

This was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

Crowds in Times Square waving at themselves on the big screen. Photos in this post by nathan jurgenson.

Something interesting has been happening in Times Square this summer. As has been occurring for a century, the crowds gather with necks perched upward looking at all the famously illuminated billboards. But now there is a new type of buzz in the crowd: they stand together facing the same direction, cameras held high and their hands waving even higher. They are not just watching celebrities or models in this the most expensive ad-space in the world; today, they are watching themselves on the big screen.

This is all part of a new billboard for the company Forever 21 currently in use in Times Square in the heart of New York City. It struck me that this billboard is nothing short of a consumer-capitalism-happening, and started snapping photos and thinking about what this all might mean. Read More »

by nathan jurgenson

I’ve written many posts on this blog about the implosion of the spheres of production and consumption indicating the rise of prosumption. This trend has exploded online with the rise of user-generated content. We both produce and consume the content on Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube and so on. And it is from this lens that I describe Apple’s latest creation announced yesterday: the iPad. The observation I want to make is that the iPad is not indicative of prosumption, but rather places a wedge between production and consumption.

From the perspective of the user the iPad is made for consuming content. While future apps might focus on the production of content, the very construction of the device dissuades these activities. Not ideal for typing, and most notably missing a camera, the device is limited in the ways in which users create content. Further, the device, much like Apple’s other devices, is far less customizable than the netbooks Apple is attempting to displace (which often use the endlessly customizable Linux OS).

Instead, the iPad is focused on an enhanced passive consumption experience (and advertised as such, opposed to their earlier focus: can’t resist). Unlike netbooks, the iPad is primarily an entertainment device. Instead of giving users new ways to produce media content, the focus is on making more spectacular and profitable the experience of consuming old media content -music and movies via the iTunes store, books via the new iBookstore and news via Apple’s partnership with the New York Times.

Thus, the story of the iPad’s first 24hours, for me, is the degree to which the tasks of producing and consuming content have been again split into two camps. The few produce it -flashy, glittering and spectacular- and the many consume it as experience. And, of course, for a price.

Does this serve as a rebuttal to an argument that the trend towards the merging of the spheres of production and consumption into prosumption is inevitable? Or is prosumption indeed the trend for a future Apple seems not to grasp? Or will the applications developed for the device overcome its limitations? ~nathan

by nathan jurgenson

Users logged into Facebook this week to find various messages from the company telling them of changes in the way they will share their information. While the company frames all of this as putting users in “control” of their own data, it strikes me that this is more about empowering the company than the users. Users are given more opportunity to share more information with more people, creating more of the data that Facebook profits from.

Whether you care if Facebook profits from all of this or not, it is important to identify the rhetorical strategy: to accumulate more data that Facebook ultimately controls and owns by telling its users that they are increasingly in control.

As CEO Mark Zuckerberg states that you have more control of your data, he is simultaneously allowing you to share more by changing the defaults that users rarely deviate from. Now more information such as as your name, profile picture, gender, networks, friend list, and any pages you are a fan of are publicly available to anyone on the Internet rather than just with your friends. See: Facebook’s Privacy Upgrade Recommends I Be Less Private. Further, Zuckerberg is not mentioning that he still owns this data and is poised to profit from it.

Unlike other posts on this topic, this is not an argument that Facebook dupes us into sharing too much. The mass exhibitionism and voyeurism in our current moment runs much too deep -often contrary to capitalist goals. Instead, one should simply read Facebook’s insidious message of “empowerment” with a skeptical eye.

Finally, we can describe this strategy as an outcome of the new more weightless prosumer capitalism. Prosumer because we simultaneously consume and produce nearly all of the content on Facebook. Weightless (as I’ve previously argued for, using Bauman’s terms) because we-the-laborers are unpaid and are given the product for free. Thus, capitalism is hardly distinguishable as such, increasingly hidden by the rhetoric of user-empowerment. Facebook is letting our mass exhibitionism spread, lubricating social interactions as well as they can, and cashing in on the data we supposedly “control”. ~nathan

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by nathan jurgenson

500px-Google_wordmark.svgFollowing PJ Rey’s excellent summary of the Internet as Playground and Factory yesterday, I offer a few additional observations from the conference this past weekend, focusing on Web 2.0 capitalism, and Google as the primary target. The roughly 100 presenters were not joined by Google, as the company said that the conference content seemed “slightly anti-capitalist.” Much of the content, indeed, took the corporate ownership of our productive labor online to task.

A common theme was how to discuss Marx’s Labor Theory of Value with respect to Web 2.0. Clearly, companies are exploiting our free labor, but they do not have to coerce us. Julian Kucklich argued that we now have exploitation without alienation. That is, our unpaid labor is used for corporate surveillance and profit, even if the labor is not alienating or “foreign to ourselves.” Simply, we like using Facebook, Twitter and so on. However, Kucklich further argues that we are taught to think Facebook is fun, that companies use the “ideology of play” to seduce us into producing (or better, prosuming). Martin Roberts, in, ironically, perhaps the conference’s most entertaining presentation, also took to task the culture of “fun”, arguing that we have been trained to see our work as “fun”, making us more productive for the capitalist system. Christian Fuchs most forcefully argued for a communist Internet, stating that exploitation on Web 2.0 is infinite because users are not being paid material wages. A good Marxian, he downplayed the importance of immaterial value gained through sites like Facebook because we live in a capitalism system based on the material. And Ulises Mejias takes Web 2.0 to task for the creation of corporate Monopsonies, where we have seen Facebook, Amazon, eBay, YouTube, Google and so on become corporate titans of Web 2.0 capitalism. He argues that using these corporate Monopsonies is dangerous and irresponsible, calling for open-source and public versions of these types of services.

Thus, it is clear to see why Google was reluctant to join this conference. Frank Pasquale forcefully called on Google to be more transparent. Given what was discussed above, as well as Google’s central status in our day-to-day knowledge-seeking life, Pasquale leaves us with questions to ponder: should its page-rank algorithm be public? Should Google be allowed to up-rank or down-rank links based their relationship to the company? Should Google be able to simply remove pages from its listings? Should Google be forced to let us know when they do these things? ~nathan

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by nathan jurgenson

myspaceThere has been recent news coverage on the relationship between social status and social networking site usage. CNN asked “Does your social class determine your online social network?

“Is there a class divide online? Research suggests yes. A recent study by market research firm Nielsen Claritas found that people in more affluent demographics are 25 percent more likely to be found friending on Facebook, while the less affluent are 37 percent more likely to connect on MySpace.”

And NPR reports that “Facebook, MySpace Divide Along Social Lines.

“Social media researcher danah boyd [has] spoken to teens all over the country about their use of social media. She thinks the online social world is dividing up — just like the real world — into neighborhoods.”

I choose these quotes purposely to illustrate that CNN decided to report on this issue when a market research firm found what was already known to social scientists, such as danah boyd or Eszter Hargittai. NPR correctly focuses on boyd’s research, however, their story comes after CNN’s, and well after social scientists identified the trend.

fbBeyond this point, an argument that I previously made on this blog is that we are seeing a more post-structural, new-media, digital divide. In addition to the problematic of access to the internet, there is the issue of how different groups learn to use the web. Boyd states in the NPR story,

“Young people — and for the most part adults as well — don’t really interact online with strangers. They talk to people they already know. You have environments in which people are divided by race, divided by class, divided by lifestyle. When they go online they are going to interact in the same way.”

Thus, the wealthy are more likely to network with others of higher status, creating a situation where digital socialization mirrors, perpetuates and solidifies old status hierarchies. Following sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, it might be the case that those of high status are learning to network with each other, making themselves distinct in the way they use new media. Does this serve as a counter-argument to those that proclaim the democratizing potential of the internet? ~nathan

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by nathan jurgenson

Tim O’Reilly coined the phrase “Web 2.0”, and while the term has been differently used, I have boiled it down to the recent explosion of user-generated content (thus the focus on prosumption). This past summer, O’Reilly has declared another new era, what he calls “Web Squared”:

“There’s [...] a qualitative change happening as the Web becomes more closely integrated with the real world via sensor-based smart phone applications. Web Squared is another way of saying “Web meets World.”

Wikitude3We can boil this phrase (if one wants to even preserve it) down to a fundamentally important trend: the increased blurring of the digital and material worlds. This trend has been discussed in some of my previous posts on “geotagging” and “location awareness”. These tools, often used via “smart”, GPS-enabled mobile phones, track and display users’ geographic locations in many different ways, such as on one’s Facebook or Twitter accounts. I have argued that (1-macro) these technologies are the further intrusion of capitalism into increasingly intimate aspects of our selves and lives, and (2-micro) the documentation of one’s location is a new task of performing the self and identity, fueling the ‘digital culture of narcissism’.

In addition to “geotagging” and “location awareness”, another important trend is that of “augmented reality”: the merging of material reality with digital information, as well as the augmentation of digitality with materiality (note that this later trend is not focused on by either O’Reilly or the Wikipedia article). Google’s Street View gives us this implosion, and real-time versions of this already exist, as evidenced by the video below. Google’s Picasa can now recognize billions of people’s faces and tag them automatically. Video games have been trending towards the addition of materiality, most dramatically when the Nintendo Wii took the market by storm by making the digital game play less about pushing buttons, and more about traditional material-world movements. Sony has announced that it will also release a “motion controller” for the Playstation 3 system and Microsoft is creating a motion controller for the Xbox 360 that will also incorporate a camera, depth sensor and a microphone, creating a video game experience where one does not have to push any buttons at all.

This speaks to a fundamental way of conceptualizing and theorizing the Internet specifically, and spaces and places generally: that digital and material realities dialectically co-construct each other. For example, social networking sites (e.g., MySpace, Facebook) are not separate from the physical world, but rather they have everything to do with it, and the physical world has much to do with digital socializing. No longer can we think of a “real” world opposed to being “online”. Instead, we need to think with a paradigm that centers on the implosion of the worlds of bits and atoms into the augmented reality that has seemingly become ascendant. ~nathan

by nathanjurgenson

Apple-iPhone-001Recently, this blog [note: this was originally posted over at Sociology Lens] has focused on the labor of the crowds. I have posted that the “prosumers of the world should unite” and have continued to write on the topic. Bmckernan expertly handled the topic when discussing “light” capitalism and more recently pj.rey convincingly demonstrated that prosumption is a structural force at play in the death of old media. This post is driven by the recent announcement that Facebook, now nearly the size of the United States, has become profitable (or “cash flow positive“). This re-ignites the debate around companies profiting from increasingly personal and intimate information about ourselves and our lives.

As prosumers on Facebook (that is, we both produce and consume the content on the site), we display ourselves and our socializing with others, and it is precisely this data, this digital goldmine, that Facebook leverages for profit. Another trend of intimate data being shared has to do with “geotagging” and “location awareness” tools.

Location awerness simply refers to tools -often utilizing “smart” mobile phones that are GPS-enabled and always in our pockets- that track and display one’s geographic location. The Loopt iPhone app does just this by keeping track of where the user is and helping them share the information with others. Yahoo has the Fire Eagle service, Google has Google Latitude, and Twitter has also begun to “geotag” tweets with their geographical location. Given these technologies, we can share our past and current geographical locations with ourselves and others by plotting them on maps, posting them as our Facebook or Twitter statuses and so on.

In these examples, we see that the very titans of Web 2.0 capitalism are set to profit (or at least try to) from another intimate source of data: where one is physically located at any given moment. The degree to which these tools become ubiquitous is the degree to which our very lives become a source of ‘intimate profit’. To this point, and I’ll leave with a question to tackle in a later post: does it matter that companies profit from increasingly intimate user-data regarding their self/their socializing/their very location if users find these tools useful? ~nathan

by nathanjurgenson

51gZ8phgHXL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_I have a number of posts on this blog regarding the user-generated web (what has come to be known as Web 2.0), usually focused on social networking sites or the changing relations of production and consumption online, leading to the rise of prosumption and the prosumer (briefly, prosumption involves both production and consumption rather than focusing on either one or the other). Some of these ideas are published as a chapter in the new book, The Culture of Efficiency, edited by Sharon Klienman. The chapter, co-authored with George Ritzer, is titled “Efficiency, Effectiveness and Web 2.0”.

There, we argue that there has been an explosion of user-generated content, creating a virtual world of general abundance. We maintain that efficiency thinking –getting the most output from a given input or using the least input to generate a given output- only makes sense to the degree that scarcity exists. Web 2.0 is, largely, an abundant system, requiring a post-scarcity focus on effectiveness rather than efficiency.

For example, it matters little the amount of input that goes into a Wikipedia entry. Many hundreds of authors putting in many hundreds of hours into an entry that is never finished is highly inefficient from the standpoint of content-production. Simultaneously, however, it can also be a highly effective way of building a base of knowledge, as the sheer size of Wikipedia illustrates.

Our essay is a small part of the larger book which looks at how people deal with new technological developments in modern, digital life –a timely and important topic. ~nathan

by nathan jurgenson

Web_2_imageFor many (especially youths and young adults), attempting to quit or never start Facebook is a difficult challenge. We are compelled to document ourselves and our lives online partly because services like Facebook have many benefits, such as keeping up with friends, scheduling gatherings (e.g., protests) and so on. Additionally, and to the point of this post, the digital documentation of ourselves also means that we exist. There is common adage that if something is not on Google, it does not exist. As the world is increasingly digital, this becomes increasingly true. Especially for individuals. One adolescent told her mother, “If you’re not on MySpace, you don’t exist.”

Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism argues that we are increasingly afraid of being nothing or unimportant so we develop narcissistic impulses to become real. The explosion of new ways to document ourselves online allows new outlets for importance, existence and perhaps even immortality that living only in the material world does not allow. The simple logic is that increased digital documentation of ourselves means increased digital existence. More than just social networking sites, we document ourselves on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and even increasingly with services that track, geographically, where one is at all times, often via one’s smart phone (e.g., Loopt, Fire Eagle, Google Latitude, etc).

So what?

Neon_Internet_Cafe_open_24_hoursIn this world where we can document our lives endlessly, we might become fixated on our every behavior. How it will appear to others, how it will help us with our jobs, friends, relationships, etc. Simply, self-presentation is a strategic game. Erving Goffman discussed this using a dramaturgical model where we are like actors on a stage performing ourselves. The new technologies described here mean that more and more areas of our life become part of this perforce because new parts of our lives are now able to be documented (e.g., our every-moment geographic locations). More and more areas of our life are lived subservient to the performance and identity we want to convey.

In this way, a hyper-fixatedness on our own subjectivity to create its own digital simulation (e.g., Facebook) can, to some degree, dictate how we live, becoming like characters on a “reality” show always performing for the camera. With digital documentation technologies we can become increasingly subservient to subjectivity and identity via its documentation if we are seduced by the importance and immortality that digital existence promises. ~nathan

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