[iDC] Literate Capitalism and the Experience Economy

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Sun May 28 12:24:44 EDT 2006

Hello Eric and all,

I too found Mark van Doorn's paper very interesting, although he makes 
a key (and very common) mistake in equating 'text' with 'narrative', 
and erroneously classing non-literate narrative knowledge-sharing as a 
subset of literacy, which it most definitely is not. His analysis of 
the experience economy appears to be relevant but atechnological, 
missing out on the essential (if overquoted) insight that when it comes 
to storytelling, the medium is – if not the entire message – then a big 
part of it.

On 28-May-06, at 9:01 AM, Eric Kluitenberg wrote:
> It strikes me that this approach is to some extend defeating its own 
> puprose, if in any case the purpose Mark van Doorn delineates is the 
> true one. Which is to say that the quest for self-determination and 
> meaningful and memorable experiences ultimately will hinge on people's 
> understanding that they are not merely consuming a product, but that 
> they are actually participating in a meaningful social process not 
> guided by an extrinsic logic (profit), something that rather has 
> intrinsic, or 'sovereign' value. I don't believe that these two can be 
> fused into one as a business process always necessarily relies on an 
> external utilitarian motive beyond the object itself (profit, market 
> share, enhancing brand recognition, long-term consumer franchise, 
> etc..), while we can learn from Bataille that the sovereign 
> (experience) is "life beyond utility".

This neat separation of commerce and art, of creativity and 
exploitation, of external motive and internal value, is a familiar 
literate trope, one that serves to reinforce literacy's historic 
equation of 'high art' with a moral 'high ground'. It is the flipside 
of literate capitalism, the revolt that extends the dominant ideology 
by celebrating its negation – but on terms dictated by that hegemony. 
How much more destabilizing and catalytic to abandon this binary 
paradigm altogether? As I keep pointing out, all one needs to do is 
spend some time in a predominantly oral culture in order to discover 
the myriad marvels of functional creativity (aesthetic, economic and 
social) and to learn that it is not the marketplace itself that 
constitutes the hegemony but rather the media with which we manage the 
exchange of goods, services and knowledge. The Experience Economy is 
already here, it has always been here, all around us. But the 
imposition of literate capitalism via the hegemony of depersonalized 
texts (bills, contracts, deeds, drafts, ledgers, laws, forms, etc.) has 
starved and enfeebled its scope, along with the rest of the oral social 
apparatus. The opportunity, of course, is to resuscitate that apparatus 
in conjunction with networked communities for the benefit of each of 
these two disenfranchised solitudes.

> So when van Doorn writes: "Technology and business it seems can learn 
> a lot from literature and performance studies as these disciplines 
> provide insight into how meaningful and memorable experiences are 
> structured" he is certainly right. They can learn how to create even 
> more business opportunities for themselves and harvest new emerging 
> markets more effecively. However, the aim of supporting the quest for 
> self-determination and meaningful experience wil not be fulfilled by 
> these kind of advanced (read: cloacked) alienating strategies of 
> informational capitalism.

Yes there is a difficult tension to negotiate here. The power of the 
machine to co-opt successful off-the-grid initiatives is astounding. 
But I disagree that 'cloaked' strategies are inherently doomed 
(regardless of whether or not that cloaking is intentional). Here's a 
personal anecdote that describes how this challenge played out in one 
situation for me...

A few years back I ran a series of digital storytelling workshops for a 
group of middle managers in an insurance company call centre. My 
participatory workshop model had been honed through several years of 
working exclusively with street kids and this was the first time I had 
branched out to train a corporate team. I definitely had an 
anti-corporate chip on my shoulder but I went at it with an open mind. 
What I discovered was that this community, this client group, these 
people, were as desperately in need of opportunities to express 
themselves, as disconnected from the meaning of their existence, from 
their own knowledge and stories – as any of the street kids had been. 
More than this, they were every bit as grateful, and transformed by the 
experience as the street kids were. When it was over there were tears 
and deep connections and awakenings despite the fact that the whole 
exercise had been framed as a corporate team-building event and 
strategic retreat, designed to increase profits by making more 
'efficient' choices (i.e. screwing poor people). Therein lay the 
tension. So yes I was propping up Moloch. But how do you fight a demon? 
In the end I felt that the personal transformation outweighed the 
corporate agenda. At least I know that I helped some people understand 
themselves and each other. That's already a revolution. And it doesn't 
mean I'm stuck 'in the system', but rather – I hope – that incremental 
gains towards personal narrative autonomy are being made even in these 
remote outposts of alienated profiteering.


bluesology • printopolis • digitopia

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