[iDC] Virtual Worlds, Education, & Labor

Joshua Levy joshualev at gmail.com
Mon Mar 5 08:28:53 EST 2007

In the push-pull between the market and expression, many people here and 
elsewhere in academia tend to take sides against the market as if the 
market is in itself exploitative, and entrepreneurship should be 
discouraged, and anything that smells of profit is suspect.  I'm not so 
ready to make those conclusions about SL or other for-profit 
environments since, as Michel argues, most users comprehend and accept 
the plain fact that the principle of profit-taking is "the very 
condition for the participatory platform to be sustainable."  Is this a 
perfect model for free expression?  Maybe or maybe not.  But how else 
are we going to fund a platform like SL that takes real human sweat 
(alas, maybe produced in virtual sweatshops) to stay afloat and 
innovate.  We can dream about a full open source SL, and that may happen 
some day, but there's no crime in Linden Labs' profit motives alone.

Our entire electronic life involves this contract: Google and all of its 
services are free to us because of the advertising Google rakes in; this 
may not be "pure" but it works -- Google is at the top of its field and 
the geeks prefer it.  We watch television for free in return for 
watching inane commercials, etc.  Is this system perfect? No.  But that 
doesn't mean it's exploitative.  As Michel says, if a company like 
MySpace overreaches is authority, we can leave and set up camp somewhere 


Michel Bauwens wrote:
> Hi Trebor,
> For years, the left has complained about the stranglehold of mass 
> media, and how they were dumbing us down, preventing autonomy and 
> sharing etc...
> Now we have an extraordinary techno-social development which creates a 
> multitude of micromedia, some of which, most of which?,  probably are 
> mediated by an existing political economy and specifically in concrete 
> cases by proprietary platforms.
> But the first thing is to recognize the joy that people are feeling 
> when they are enabled/empowered to express themselves, share, and form 
> communities. On that basis, they will learn the impediments that 
> mediation  is forcing on them, and learn to yearn for more pure forms 
> of autonomy.
> However, if peer production is non-reciprocal, as I argue, then it 
> makes no sense to argue about exploitation through derivative services.
> Rather, I would argue that in most cases, there is a very well 
> understood social contract. You provide us with a participatory 
> platform, we understand that needs funding, and therefore, the 
> provider has a business strategy. Conflicts will arise out of the 
> balance between participation and profit-taking, but not on the very 
> principle of profit taking ,since this is the very condition for the 
> participatory platform to be sustainable. If the participation breaks 
> down because of the profit taking, as seems the case in MySpace, then 
> people start to leave, and eventually, the social conditions for the 
> creation of totally autonomous platforms will arise.
> I understand that in academia, being critical is the life-blood for 
> recognition and that there is a competition towards hyper-criticality. 
> But I think that the conclusion that most people have suddently become 
> 'dumb', because they do not recognize the exploitation, is 
> unwarranted. They do know this, and they mostly recognize it as a fact 
> of life, but they also have their own interests at heart.
> If you criticize that the benefits of the labor of the many go to the 
> few, does that then imply that you favour revenue-sharing? But in that 
> case, you kill passionate production, it becomes a for-market 
> activity, the quality of contributions plummets. Is that what is 
> preferable? Or rather, should we find ways so that the generated 
> revenue goes back to the community in such a way that the peer 
> production process is not undermined by direct payments?
> I say we need strategies which work with the passion of the peer 
> producers, that take them seriously (does not assume they are dumb and 
> unaware of exploitation).
> Michel
> -- 
> The P2P Foundation researches, documents and promotes peer to peer 
> alternatives.
> Wiki and Encyclopedia, at http://p2pfoundation.net; Blog, at 
> http://blog.p2pfoundation.net; Newsletter, at 
> http://integralvisioning.org/index.php?topic=p2p
> Basic essay at http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=499; interview 
> at 
> http://poynder.blogspot.com/2006/09/p2p-very-core-of-world-to-come.html; 
> video interview, at 
> http://www.masternewmedia.org/news/2006/09/29/network_collaboration_peer_to_peer.htm 
> <http://www.masternewmedia.org/news/2006/09/29/network_collaboration_peer_to_peer.htm>
> The work of the P2P Foundation is supported by 
> http://www.ws-network.com/04_team.htm
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Joshua Levy
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