Tag Archives: marx

Middle-Class Poverty

found at http://www.impactlab.net/2011/09/08/many-americans-falling-out-of-the-middle-class/

“Somebody who’s fallen from the middle class to poverty, in my opinion is still middle class.”  Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate, made this statement on a talk show a few weeks ago.   Bloggers ridiculed the comment as nonsensical.  I admit I too was tempted to just call Romney an idiot (again) and move on.  But, as I’ve been watching politicians in a society of growing inequality and high unemployment struggle with the concept of class while desperately trying not to alienate any potential voters, I’ve begun to see these comments as teachable moments regarding class.  Here I will offer some possibilities of Romney’s meaning and more importantly employ this statement to discuss the concept of class. (more…)

what if facebook paid us?

A wildly improbable thought experiment: what if Facebook moved to a micropayment model and gave users, say, $1 for contributing value to their site?

This would be a raise, of course, because we are currently paid $0 in wages. However, I’ll argue that if Facebook paid its users there would be a user-revolt.

First, Facebook makes money. That you diligently provide them with your personal data makes you an unpaid worker in their digital goldmine. In the traditional Marxist framework, exploitation is measured by the surplus value the worker creates (profits over and above wages). And since our wages on Facebook equal zero, exploitation would, then, be infinite -as Christian Fuchs likes to point out. However, others have also looked at the non-monetary value of using Facebook:

Second, you (arguably) get value out of Facebook through building an online identity, socializing with others and so on -and all this is at no monetary cost.

And it is this second point that explains why Facebook users do not currently feel overly exploited: they view the site and its value in non-economic terms. However, were Facebook to start paying users there would be a gestalt shift towards economic thinking that would lead them to feel exploited. That their labor was only worth a dollar would be insulting. Monetary compensation would key users into thinking of their activities as labor or work rather than as leisure or fun.

I find this thought experiment interesting because of the counterintuitive idea that getting more money would in effect anger people. Is this what you think would happen if Facebook paid us? ~nathanjurgenson.com

The DeMcDonaldization of the Internet

On this blog, I typically discuss the intersection of social theory and the changing nature of the Internet (e.g., using Marx, Bourdieu, Goffman, Bauman, DeBord and so on). In a chapter of the new third edition of the McDonaldization Reader edited by George Ritzer, I argue that what we are seeing is a general trend towards the deMcDonaldization of the Internet.

The shift from a top-down centrally conceived and controlled “Web 1.0” to a more user-generated and social “Web 2.0” is a shift away from the dimensions of McDonaldization as Ritzer defines the concept. For example, a corporate-generated website that does not allow user-generated content is paradigmatic of Web 1.0. The site is produced efficiently by few individuals, making it predictable, controllable and relatively devoid of outside human input. Web 2.0, alternatively, is not centered on the efficient production of content [I've made this argument previously]. User-generated content is, instead, produced by many individuals, making it much less predictable –evidenced by the random videos we come across on YouTube, articles on Wikipedia, or perhaps the best example is the downright capricious and aleatory experience of Chatroulette. The personalization and community surrounding social networking sites are hard to quantify and make the web far more humanized. Thus, Web 2.0 marks a general deMcDonaldization of the web. Examples of these points are further illustrated in the chapter.

This conclusion also counters the thesis that McDonaldization is something that will only continue to grow – opposed to the “grand narrative” that Ritzer (and Weber before him) put forth.

Finally, further consideration needs to be given to the various ways in which Web 2.0 remains McDonaldized, rationalized and standardized. Many of the sites that allow for unpredictable user-generated content do so precisely because of their rationalized and standardized -and thus McDonaldized- underlying structure. In many ways, our Facebook profiles all seem to look and behave similarly. The rationalized and standardized structures of Web 2.0 seem to coexist comfortably with irrational and unpredictable content they facilitate. ~nathanjurgenson.com

conference summary part 2: the internet as playground and factory

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

The Googlization of Everything

the prosumer and intimate profit

by nathanjurgenson

Apple-iPhone-001Recently, this blog 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

square-eye32 Facebook Makes Money, Tops 300 Million Users

square-eye32 The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Furl | Newsvine

Out of Print: Prosumption and the Triumph of New Media

by pj.rey

President Obama recently gave a eulogy for the legendary news anchor, Walter Cronkite, on which occasion, he delivered the nation this message:

We know that this is a difficult time for journalism. Even as appetites for news and information grow, newsrooms are closing.  Despite the big stories of our era, serious journalists find themselves all too often without a beat.  Just as the news cycle has shrunk, so has the bottom line. [...] Naturally, we find ourselves wondering how he would have covered the monumental stories of our time. In an era where the news that city hall is on fire can sweep around the world at the speed of the Internet, would he still have called to double-check?  Would he have been able to cut through the murky noise of the blogs and the tweets and the sound bites to shine the bright light on substance?  Would he still offer the perspective that we value?  Would he have been able to remain a singular figure in an age of dwindling attention spans and omnipresent media?

The president waxed romantically about the old media and spoke with the sort fondness that one expects at the funeral of an old friend (or cherished institution).  He was hopeful about the future of conventional media.  But, eulogies are a post-mortum affair.  And, for all the president’s accolades, “the murky noise of the blogs and the tweets and the sound bites” appear to have won the day.

In fact, these days, one can hardly avoid stories about the death of print media.  Last December, the Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy. Shortly thereafter, Michael Hirschorn warned that “End Times” might be drawing near for the America’s paper of record.  A recent article reports that the crisis is spreading to other forms of conventional reporting such as photojournalism.  Michael Bowden has even gone so far as to announce that we have entered a “post-journalistic age.”

(more…)

Space: Capitalism’s Final Frontier?

YouTube Preview Imageby NickieWild

On June 19th, a groundbreaking ceremony in the town of Upham, New Mexico was held for the world’s first commercial spaceport, “Spaceport America.” British company Virgin Galactic received $200 million in taxpayer incentives to fund the project that will take space tourists on a short flight above the atmosphere for $200,000 dollars. The ceremony included actors dressed as Spanish Conquistadors, who once explored and conquered in the area, symbolic of the link between trailblazers of the past and future. However, this representation may have been more telling than was intended. The Conquistadors, hailed by history as great explorers, were more motivated by financial gain than lofty goals of discovery.

Some citizens have criticized the use of taxpayer money to fund this project. While it may pump some money into the local economy (there will be hangar space for rent and satellite launching capabilities), a Marxist interpretation would call for greater focus on the benefits Virgin Galactic may receive while placing almost half the financial risk upon the people. Peter Dickens writes that the only way for Capitalism to continue expanding is to seek new places to extend its reach; the era of commercialized space may have officially begun.

square-eyeRead More

square-eye

“The Cosmos as Capitalism’s Outside” by Peter Dickens


add to del.icio.us add to blinkslist add to furl digg this add to ma.gnolia stumble it! add to simpy seed the vine add to reddit add to fark tailrank this post to facebook

George Ritzer Guest Post: Are Today’s Globalized Cathedrals of Consumption Tomorrow’s Global Dinosaurs?

By: George Ritzer

Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland

bloomingtonmn_mallofamericainterior1

A decade ago I wrote a book dealing with what I called the “cathedrals of consumption”. These are consumption settings that had, in the main, come into existence in the United States in the post-WWII era. Of particular interest were the most grandiose of these consumption settings including major indoor shopping malls, mega-malls (e.g. Mall of America), theme parks (especially Disneyland and Disney World), cruise ships, and above all the themed casino-hotels that came to dominate the Las Vegas Strip. In the last several decades these cathedrals of consumption became increasingly ubiquitous and predominant not only throughout the United States, but also globally. This is particularly clear in and around the booming economies of China and the Arabian Peninsula, but similar developments are taking place in many other places in the world (e.g. Singapore, Philippines, etc.). Dubai began creating its three Palm Islands to be dominated by mega-hotels like the Atlantis (a clone of a hotel of the same name in the Bahamas), the first of nearly a dozen hotel-condominiums to be built on Palm Jumeirah, the first of the islands to be completed. Dubai will also have many shopping malls associated with this development; there is, as yet, no plan, to build a Disneyland there.

This essay is devoted to the fate of the cathedrals of consumption globally in the “Great Recession” that began in late 2007. It is difficult to feel as much sympathy for the plight of hyperconsumers and the grand cathedrals of consumption as, for example, those who have lost their jobs and seen their pension funds decline precipitously. Nonetheless, there is an important story to be told here and it is one that will have negative implications for large numbers of people, including more sympathetic figures such as those throughout the world who are losing, and will lose, their jobs (in construction, as dealers, as hotel workers, etc.) associated in various ways with hyperconsumption and the cathedrals of consumption.

The grand narrative here involves a series of changes in consumption that began mainly in the United States after the Second World War and gained increasing momentum over the next 60-plus years. Over this period of time these changes became increasingly global. When the window of opportunity for these developments slammed shut beginning in late 2007, many projects were stopped in their tracks and the trend toward increasing hyperconsumption and ever more, and more spectacular, cathedrals of consumption was aborted. In terms of the cathedrals of consumption, while this was true of some ongoing projects in the U.S., it is especially true in other places in the world which are being especially hard hit by the current recession. The cathedrals of consumption that seemed to so many to be a bright symbol of the future of the global economy in general, and consumption more particularly, now increasingly seem like dinosaurs, relics from a previous epoch that is not likely to return, at least in anything approaching the form it reached in the first decade of the 21st century.

(more…)

britannica is putting customers to work

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

square-eye32 Read More: Britannica reaches out to the web

 

square-eye32

The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

prosumers of the world unite

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

square-eye32 Read More: Facebook Aims to Extend Its Reach Across the Web

 

square-eye32

Social Movements and New Media