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Tag Archives: prosumption

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

Stencil_disneywarThe old point that capitalism subsumes everything -even that which is precisely meant to be anti- or non-capitalistic- has been exemplified recently by corporations jamming the culture jammers by co-opting the jammer’s strategies.

Culture jamming follows the Situationist (prominently, Guy Debord) tradition of challenging the status quo, including political and corporate structures. However, even these anti-capitalistic actions have been and still are co-opted and put to work under capitalism. This is nothing new. Previous literature tackled the commodification of resistance. The Punk aesthetic was quickly subsumed by the logic of corporate fashion (e.g., this magazine[.pdf] sold back the punk aesthetic). And today, one can clearly see the commodification of hippy culture in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco.

obamvertisingBut it is the very recent examples that motivate this post. I previously wrote about Pepsi’s advertising campaign that mimicked Obama’s political campaign, including the street-art theme that draws directly from the culture-jamming and Situationist playbooks. Starbucks has also pasted advertisements in urban areas that look like street art, an art form that typically stands against such corporate invasions of the public aesthetic. As was poignantly discussed on this blog last week by NickieWild, Starbucks has gone even further down the route of what I call culture de-jamming (i.e., corporations jamming the culture jammers by commodifying their resistance to commodification). Starbucks sent people to observe local coffee shops to best create the first “inspired by Starbucks” store, rustic décor and all [pictures]. Sans the Starbucks logo, the store allows you to walk in and play your own music, attend organized poetry readings and so on. Interestingly, this follows precisely the trend George Ritzer laid out in Enchanting a Disenchanted World, arguing that Starbucks is attempting to create enchantment, which will ultimately fail because disenchantment follows in the very rationalization and reproduction of the ‘local coffee shop.’

More recent examples of culture de-jamming include corporate-organized “flashmobs”, another tool taken from culture jammer’s, this time used for corporate ends (note that Wikipedians claim that the gathering cannot be considered a flashmob if it is corporate). Examples include A&E’s “Hammer Pants” mob and video and T-Mobile’s large dancing mob at the Liverpool Street Station in London. The latter example also explores how consumers are in part producers (that is, prosumers) of this culture de-jamming, making this jamming of the culture jammers even more insidious. Can capitalism really co-opt the very logic of resistance, or will resistance just take on new forms moving forward? ~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

by nathan jurgenson

Zygmunt_Bauman_by_KubikDuring this “great recession” capitalism might become lighter and more liquid while older and more solidified traditions wash away in the flux of unstable markets (potentially an economic “reboot,” similar to Schumpeter’s notion of capitalism as “creative destruction”). Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquidity” thesis about our late-modern world becoming more fluid seems relevant in light of the “transumer” and “virtual commodities”, both having received recent attention.

The transumer (video) is, in part, one who encounters “stuff” temporarily as opposed to accumulating it permanently. Zipcar, Netflix and others mentioned articulate that for many, especially the young and/or wealthy, the physical amassing of “stuff” is unwanted and instead have begun to rent items people once accumulated. “Stuff”, for many, is decreasingly allowed to solidify on our shelves and in our attics, instead flowing in a more liquid and nimble sense through consumers’ lives.

Another article discusses the rise of “virtual goods” -digital commodities such as gifts on Facebook or weapons on World of Warcraft. Again, the trend is towards “lighter” exchange as opposed to the solid and heavier exchange of physical goods. Microsoft was Bauman’s example of “light capitalism”, producing light products such as software, which is, opposed to heavier items such as automobiles, more changeable and disposable. The proliferation of virtual goods also exemplifies this trend.

facebookGoing further, one might wonder if we are seeing a further lightening towards a “weightless capitalism”. Facebook is valued at $10billion because it merely created a template that is editable by its users. While not completely weightless (because Facebook still needs to maintain servers that host the site and the offices of its programmers), the site approaches a sort of weightless capitalism because it outsources the heavy labor to its users. The site is liquid in that it is not solid and fixed, but rather open to, indeed, dependent on, user input. Because consumers of Facebook (i.e., us) are also producing content and value for the site, we are “prosumers” (producers of that which we consume). Is it the case that “weightless capitalism” is “prosumer capitalism”, and Facebook the paradigmatic case? ~nathan

By nathan jurgenson

In light of the current “great recession” one might argue that capitalism needs to become lighter and more liquid while old solidified traditions wash away in the flux of unstable markets (potentially a “reboot” of the economy, ala Schumpeter’s notion of capitalism as “creative destruction”). Zygmund Bauman’s “liquidity” thesis about our late-modern world becoming more fluid seems relevant in light of two recent New York Times articles highlighting the “transumer” and “virtual commodities”.

The transumer is one who encounters “stuff” temporarily as opposed to accumulating it permanently. ZipCar, Netflix and others mentioned in the article articulate that for many, especially younger folks, the physical amassing of “stuff” is unwanted and instead have begun to rent items people one once accumulated. “Stuff”, for many, is decreasingly allowed to solidify on our shelves or in our attics, but is instead flowing in a more liquid and nimble sense through consumers’ lives.

Another article discusses the rise of virtual goods, that is, digital commodities such as… Again, the trend is towards “lighter” exchange as opposed to the solid and heavier exchange of physical goods. Microsoft was Bauman’s example of “light capitalism”, producing light products (software, as opposed to automobiles, is more changeable and disposable), and the proliferation of virtual goods also exemplifies this trend.

Going further, one might wonder if we are seeing a further lightening, towards a “weightless capitalism”. Facebook is valued in the billions of dollars because it merely created a template that is editable by its users. While not completely weightless (because Facebook still needs to maintain servers that host the site and the offices of its programmers), the site approaches a sort of weightless capitalism because it outsources the heavy labor to its users. The site is liquid in that it is not solid and fixed, but rather open to, indeed, dependent on, user input. Because consumers of Facebook (i.e., us) are also producing content and value for the site, we are “prosumers” (producers of that which we consume). Therefore it might be the case that “weightless capitalism” is “prosumer capitalism”, and Facebook the paradigmatic case. ~nathan

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by nathan jurgenson

600px-wikipedia-logo1The very idea of Wikipedia -the open-source encyclopedia that anyone with an internet connection can edit- has sparked many discussions about knowledge construction, such as the politics behind truth, the social construction of knowledge, the tyranny of epistemic expertism or populism, and so on. In these discussions, the Encyclopedia Britannica is often posed as the antithesis to Wikipedia. So it came as big news earlier this year that the Encyclopedia Britannica, the model of old-school expertism, is going to begin to allow user-generated content.

Users will be able to write new content, which then goes to one of the thousands of paid Britannica editors to accept/edit/reject. Ideally, Britannica wants new edits to appear on their site within twenty minutes and are planned to be incorporated into subsequent print editions.

Outside of the debates regarding knowledge production mentioned above, there is another point to be made here: Britannica is a for-profit model in contrast to the not-for-profit status of Wikipedia. There has been no indication on the part of Britannica to pay users who make good edits. The underlying point is much the same as can be made regarding “our” free labor that we donate to Facebook: that, simply, Britannica is trying to improve its costly operation and its profit-potential with unpaid user-labor. Britannica has, in part, “crowdsourced” production to its consumers, highlighting the highly efficient business model of turning consumers into unpaid “prosumers” (those that consume that which they produce). A further discussion might begin with asking how has Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia also profited from the prosumer business model (for example, by “branding” the Wikipedia name)? This will be a topic for a later post. ~nathan

by nathan jurgenson

266px-facebooksvgAll over the news the past few days has been the outing of Facebook for changing its terms of service so that it could keep its user’s data for whatever it pleased for as long as it pleased. Even if the user deleted their account. Next came the vast uproar to this move followed by Facebook’s backtracking, arguing that the wording was harsher than what they would actually do in practice. Under continued pressure, however, Facebook backed down and reverted its terms of service to its previous state before this fiasco.

What the articles I link to above do not highlight is the fact that Facebook always had your data (if you are a user), and continues to have your data. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that users “own and control their information”, but what do the terms “own” and “control” mean with respect to Facebook and other similar sites?

The fact remains that Facebook is a company that still hoards its users’ personal information in an attempt to make money. They are building a database -a digital goldmine- from the entirety of one’s profile. In fact, just about everything one does on Facebook is a cell in this ever-expanding database of our lives, identities, and social networks. What real ‘control’ do we have? In what ways do we ‘own’ our data? And perhaps most importantly, in what ways does Facebook own our data? Facebook clearly owns the profit-potential from our online social networking labor. This is a point made before, and all of the events of the past couple of weeks have not changed this. ~nathan

by nathan jurgenson

cable1Lately, we have been doing lots of work, for others. For free.

Millions of users of sites like Facebook and MySpace are clicking away at their profiles, adding detailed information about themselves and others. “We” are uploading content to sites like Flickr, YouTube, the microblogging service Twitter and many others, and our labor creates vast databases about ourselves -what I previously described as a sort of mass exhibitionism.

Facebook’s profit model is built upon an ownership of its user’s labor, specifically, the intimate detail of our lives and self-presentations. This is an example a larger trend of “prosumption,” that is, the simultaneous role of being a producer of what one consumes. In the material world we are doing this more often by scanning and bagging our own groceries, checking ourselves onto planes and into hotels, etc. The websites mentioned above are part of the user-generated and social turn the Internet has taken in the last few years –what has come to be known as Web 2.0. And prosumption generally, and especially on Web 2.0, is the mechanism by which we become unpaid workers (“crowd sourcing”), producing valuable information for the benefit of businesses. This is the almost endlessly efficient business model of Web 2.0 capitalism.

Karl Marx argued for taking control of the means of production, and on Web 2.0, to some degree, we have. But what remains in the hands of the few, the businesses, is the profit-potential. Facebook’s reach is ever-growing and the company is valued at $15 billion dollars as of 2007, precisely due to the data that users donate to the site.

Perhaps many do not mind giving away their labor because they enjoy the services provided, such as the richly social Facebook platform. However, we should also ask why the personal data of ourselves, that we are producing, does not belong to us? Given the successes of non-profit/open source software and applications (e.g., Linux, Firefox, etc), shouldn’t we be calling for a non-profit/open source social networking platform (i.e., an open source Facebook-like platform) where businesses do not own the highly personal data about ourselves and our socializing? What other ways can we think of that removes the link between our data (and labor) and corporate profit? ~nathan

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