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Tag Archives: consumption

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

Presidential debates might be the single political event where Marshall McLuhan’s infamous phrase “the medium is the message” rings most true. Candidates know well that content takes the back seat, perhaps even stuffed in the trunk, during these hyper-performative news events. The video above of McLuhan on the Today show analyzing a Ford-Carter debate from 1976 is well worth a watch. The professor’s points still ring provocative this morning after the first Obama-Romney debate of 2012; a debate that treated the Twitter-prosumer as a television-consumer and thoroughly failed the social medium.  Read More »

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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 »

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

The New York Times gathered experts to discuss the disappearance of the physical book, especially important in light of the announcement of the iPad media consumption device. The predictable narrative throughout the article is that the digital is trivial and the physical has more “depth.” I’m interested here in troubling this narrative. It goes well beyond this article. Bring up Twitter in certain circles and people will laugh, calling it trivial. Talk to someone over thirty about Facebook and you very well might get the same reaction. I discussed this trend previously on how unfair it is to quickly label discussions of politics on social networking sites as “slacktivism” (slacker+activism) simply because they are done online. Why do we belittle the digital as trivial when, as danah boyd points out, our everyday material world interactions are equally as trivial as what is posted online?

In the article, Matthew Kirschenbaum claims that the “stillness” of physical print is more conducive to “deep concentration.” Liz Gray agrees, arguing that people reading screens have lowered attention spans and less skill at engaging complex issues. Nicholas Carr states that physical books develop deep comprehension and learning because screens sacrifice single-mindedness and lead to shallow learning. William Powers also describes physicality as “deep” and claims it is “best” because it leads to more thinking. With the exception of Kirschenbaum’s point that the loss of depth might be of diminishing concern, this line of thought is deployed throughout the article without “deep” counterpoint or reflection.

Let’s trouble this. Perhaps digital learning lacks depth for these critics. This might be true for them becuase they developed their outlook in a world of physical books. However, new realities, such as the digitization of text, breed new ways of learning about and viewing the world. Those developing in today’s augmented world (that is, the massive blurring of the physical and digital that is occurring) will not lose the ability to focus or concentrate. The increased amount and access to information and communities of knowledge will be utilized in ways that the physical-only folks cannot (yet) comprehend. Historically, the development of the book, the telephone, and every other communications technology has faced similar claims about the loss of “depth.” With hindsight, we look back at these claims with amusement because we develop new ways of learning to best cope with and utilize new realities. The criticisms come from those who have not developed these new standpoints.

When faced with our new augmented reality, the reaction of the physical-only folks in the article is to claim that their outlook or standpoint is universally better. Thus (following Nietzsche, Foucault, Harding, etc.), these “trivial” and “deep” narratives are claims to power focused on the superiority of one way of learning the world at the expense of another. Let’s acknowledge and analyze these different outlooks instead of trying to universalize our own by claiming our perspective as fundamentally “deeper”, “better” and more true. Last, let’s ask who benefits from constructing digital learning as inherently deficient? ~nathan

Do School Libraries Need Books?

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

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

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