[iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory

Grant Wythoff gwythoff at princeton.edu
Sun Jun 7 20:37:40 UTC 2009


One would think that with the events of the past year, "money" would not be
so easily equated with mortgage debt.  A first step in thinking through the
new tools and practices I referred to is to consider how we can stop
equating "money" with its contemporary modalities.  Late 19th, early 20th
century utopias proposed replacing money with "credit" (esp. Bellamy's
"Looking Backward"), a proposal which should of course seem laughable today.

But neither can money be a valuable object or substance in itself, since it
serves as a token for exchange.  Money is and has always been an abstraction
of value.

What I was getting at is that practices of production, exchange, and
consumption have developed on a mass scale *within the specific context of
digital networks* that currently cannot be ported back into or reconciled
with the traditional money economy.  These practices are the subject of this
conference, and what I think we all should be considering is what models,
alternatives, reflections the production of value within the information
economy provides in the current economic climate.

It's beyond my expertise to fully "envision" any solutions, but for one of
the most, I think, productive examples, check out Charlie Stross on 'venture
altruism' in the novel Accelerando.


On Sun, Jun 7, 2009 at 3:47 PM, Amanda Chapel <chapel at strumpette.com> wrote:

>  Grant,
> "I believe is evidence that we have the tools and experiences at our
> disposal to entirely rethink the circulation and standard of money as well
> as the value of work with the digital realm."
> The mortgage is due the first of the month… what do you envision?
> - Amanda
> *From:* idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net [mailto:
> idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] *On Behalf Of *Grant Wythoff
> *Sent:* Sunday, June 07, 2009 1:22 PM
> *To:* idc at mailman.thing.net
> *Subject:* [iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory
> Hi All-
> My name is Grant Wythoff, and I'm currently a PhD candidate in the
> Department of English and the Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton.
> My work is situated at the intersections of media theory and science
> fiction, exploring the various types of worldbuilding, estrangement, and
> utopianism that bubble up from moments of epistemic shifts in media
> technologies.  Other areas of interest include new media culture and the
> rhetoric of "content," television studies, media archaeology, 20th century
> American theater and film, and Frankfurt school aesthetics.
> As Howard pointed out, we are in a situation in which we must entirely
> redefine our notions of labor and play, and I think this conference will be
> a really exciting forum to begin thinking along these lines.  One can go as
> far back as Benjamin in locating an alignment of labor and play within
> industrial apparatus--his notion of "Spielraum" (playspace / room for play)
> seems particularly apt in our own context as it gets at the truly
> revolutionary (if not utopian) possibilities opened up for new fields of
> action within the very same profit motives of commercial agents.  Yes,
> information aggregators have proved immensely powerful tools of cognitive
> mapping through both graphic means--witness Google's flu trends or
> twitscoop--as well as good old fashioned research methodologies--i.e.
> wikipedia and wikileaks.  But at the same time, we are left with an
> incredibly difficult set of questions, since the space for play the media
> opens for us has almost always been one that fundamentally does not belong
> to us.  And here I can't help quoting the old Playstation motto, "live in
> your world, play in ours."
> Perhaps we can come back to this topic of profit motives intersecting with
> useful "public" goods and enjoyable "private" behavior raised by Howard and
> taken up by Trebor--and here I will just briefly jump across a few
> interrelated ideas.
> To take a case study, Eric Schmidt swears that things like flu trends,
> google maps, and semantic searching are the primary business of Google while
> the harvested clickwork of their targeted ads is only a necessary evil, the
> fuel powering these larger ambitions.  For argument's sake, what if (and
> this is a big 'what if,' used only for the purposes of a productive science
> fictional tension with the real) what if through some process of natural
> selection the "private" profit motives of web 2.0 companies and the creative
> industries are gradually replaced (displaced? superseded?) by their useful
> "public" functions?  In other words, what kind of *value* does the public at
> large attribute to the information economy?
> In business circles, web 2.0 is spoken of as being a failure since it "has
> no business model," since there is no way to monetize it on a large scale.
> To take a second case study, we are at a crucial juncture in the information
> economy, with widely publicized talk of new agglomerations of news media
> (spearheaded by the AP) and new forms of control over "content."  But this
> talk of "monetizing" freely linked, traded, and read online news content (a
> discussion that has been disseminated through the tubes of the media
> themselves) has revealed in so may fascinating ways just how regressive such
> proposals are.  The sense of disbelief everyone feels--grounded in their
> everyday techniques of screen reading, their presence online--I believe is
> evidence that we have the tools and experiences at our disposal to entirely
> rethink the circulation and standard of money as well as the value of work
> with the digital realm.
> The question of newspapers and the loss of local voices is of course one to
> be taken up by a different thread.  Leaving this aside and turning to the
> topic of properly digital labor:  our work is unpaid.  But do we want
> remuneration?
> If the biggest challenge to a critique of digital labor is the fact that
> the mass of clickworkers simply doesn't care, that they enjoy their free
> labor (let's face it, who doesn't)--then perhaps a possible secondary line
> of inquiry would bring us into the potentialities of digital networks
> foreclosed by their current configurations.  Television always promised a
> world represented as system--channels, flow, live feed, etc--a rhetoric
> which has been notoriously difficult for cultural critics to satisfactorily
> engage with.  In what ways has our image of the world evolved from that
> given to us by television?  In what ways is the potential for political
> critique and "pleasurable learning, cheerful and militant learning" (Brecht)
> foreclosed by the current, digital configuration of the world picture?
> Further, in what ways is this foreclosure itself representable (on a mass or
> systemic scale) within the digital networks themselves? (The February flare
> up over Facebook's new terms of service provides somewhat of an
> illustration).
> Rambling first thoughts.  But I'm eager to see these and others bounced
> around.
> Best-
> Grant
> --
> Grant Wythoff
> http://twitter.com/gwijthoff
> Princeton University
> Department of English
> McCosh 22
> Princeton, NJ 08544

Grant Wythoff
Princeton University
Department of English
McCosh 22
Princeton, NJ 08544
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