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Tag Archives: capitalism

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

The semantics of Silicon Valley Capitalism are precise, measured, and designed to undermine preexisting definitions of the things such capitalists seek to exploit. It is no coincidence that digital connections are often called “friends,” even though the terms “friend” and “Facebook friend” have very different meanings. And then there is “social,” a Silicon Valley shorthand term for “sharing digital information” that bears little resemblance to the word “social” as we’ve traditionally used it. From “Living Social” to “making music social,” “social media” companies use friendly old words to spin new modes of interaction into concepts more comfortable and familiar. It is easier to swallow massive changes to interpersonal norms, expectations, and behaviors when such shifts are repackaged and presented as the delightful idea of being “social” with “friends.”

But is this “social” so social? Yes and no and not quite. To elaborate, we propose a distinction: “Social” versus “social,” in which the capital-S “Social” refers not to the conventional notion of social but specifically to Silicon-Valley-Social. The point is, simply, that when Silicon Valley entrepreneurs say “social,” they mean only a specific slice of human sociality. Read More »

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This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

PJ Rey just posted a terrific reflection on hipsters and low-tech on this blog, and I just want to briefly respond, prod and disagree a little. This is a topic of great interest to me: I’ve written about low-tech “striving for authenticity” in my essay on The Faux-Vintage Photo, reflected on Instagrammed war photos, the presence of old-timey cameras at Occupy Wall Street, and the IRL Fetish that has people obsessing over “the real” in order to demonstrate just how special and unique they are.

While I appreciate PJ bringing in terrific new theorists to this discussion, linking authenticity and agency with hipsters and technology, I think he focuses too much on the technologies themselves and not enough on the processes of identity; too much on the signified and not where the real action is in our post-modern, consumer society: the signs and signifiers. Read More »

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

dont read all of the tweets

There is often the assumption that the information economy expects us to consume more and more, leading us to process more but concentrate less. Some have called this a “fear of missing out” (or FOMO), a “blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media.” However, most of these arguments about FOMO make the false assumption that the information economy wants and expects us to always process more. This isn’t true; we need to accept the reality that the information economy as well as our own preferences actually value, even need, missing out.

Many do feel in over their heads when scrolling social media streams. Especially those of us who make a hobby or career in the attention/information economy, always reading, sharing, commenting and writing; tweeting, blogging, retweeting and reblogging. Many of us do feel positioned directly in the path of a growing avalanche of information, scared of missing out and afraid of losing our ability to slow down, concentrate, connect and daydream, too distracted by that growing list of unread tweets. While it seemed fun and harmless (Tribble-like?) at first, have we found ourselves drowning in the information streams we signed up for and participate in? Read More »

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

all photos in this post by nathan jurgenson

The role of new, social media in the Occupy protests near Wall Street, around the country and even around the globe is something I’ve written about before. I spent some time at Occupy Wall Street last week and talked to many folks there about technology. The story that emerged is much more complicated than expected. OWS has a more complicated, perhaps even “ironic” relationship with technology than I previous thought and that is often portrayed in the news and in everyday discussions.

It is easy to think of the Occupy protests as a bunch of young people who all blindly utilize Facebook, Twitter, SMS, digital photography and so on. And this is partially true. However, (1) not everyone at Occupy Wall Street is young; and (2), the role of technology is certainly not centered on the new, the high-tech or social media. At OWS, there is a focus on retro and analogue technologies; moving past a cultural fixation on the high-tech, OWS has opened a space for the low-tech.

What I want to think about there is the general Occupy Wall Street culture that has mixed-feelings about new technologies, even electricity itself. I will give examples of the embracing of retro-technology at OWS and consider three overlapping explanations for why this might be the case. I will also make use of some photographs I took while there. Read More »

Zygmunt Bauman has famously conceptualized modern society as increasingly “liquid.” Information, objects, people and even places can more easily flow around time and space. Old “solid” structures are melting away in favor of faster and more nimble fluids. I’ve previously described how capitalism in the West has become more liquid by moving out of “solid” brick-and-mortar factories making “heavy” manufacturing goods and into a lighter, perhaps even “weightless,” form of capitalism surrounding informational products. The point of this post is that as information becomes increasingly liquid, it leaks.

WikiLeaks is a prime example of this. Note that the logo is literally a liquid world. While the leaking of classified documents is not new (think: the Pentagon Papers), the magnitude of what is being released is unprecedented. The leaked war-logs from Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be shocking. The most current leaks surround US diplomacy. We learned that the Saudi’s favored bombing Iran, China seems to be turning on North Korea, the Pentagon targeted refugee camps for bombing and so on. And none of this would have happened without the great liquefiers: digitality and Internet. Read More »

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 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 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

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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