[iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory

Michael Bauwens michelsub2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 8 07:32:55 UTC 2009

Dear Pat, Trebor et al.

I find myself echoing Pat's suggestion that rather than debating about whether Google exploit us or not, it is more fruitful to search for solutions that enhance the possibilities for a maximum number of people to engage in passionate pursuits, while at the same time being able to sustain their livelyhoods.

The ideal image that comes to my mind is the situation in the Middle Ages, but more precisely in Southeast Asia, where socities found ways to support a large number of their members to engage in spiritual pursuits, by allowing a flexible and temporary engagement with the Sangha. Today, such an engagement would involve a basic income, but which I believe is not a realistic achievement in the short term.

So it seems to me that an ideal transitory regime would work on the basis of the existing social practices as they have been developed by free software, free culture, and open design movements, i.e. the triarchichal set of institutions that I have described in:

Business Models for Peer Production. Open Source Business Resource, January 2008. Retrieved from http://www.osbr.ca/ojs/index.php/osbr/article/view/494/458

In summary, this model combines:

- a self-aggregating community of producers, peer governing their productive processes (augmented by paid developers which nevertheless offer their output to the commons)

- a for-benefit association managing and finding funds for the infrastructure of cooperation

- a set of businesses that work on the basis of the commons and balances out its use by practicing benefit sharing to the for-benefit association as well as hiring developers from the pool of the commons, thereby sustaining the commons in this dual way

While this model presently operates on a sectoral basis, there's a lot that public authorities could do to sustain the overall balance and development of this mode.

In this context:

David Bollier gave a great speech in April 2008 about commons-based value creation and what public authorities could do to stimulate it, by focusing on a fourfold strategy framework.

Bollier wrote that:

“Government should actively support the commons, just as it supports the market. Government does all sorts of things to help markets function well. It
builds infrastructure, pays for courts, provides legal protections,
promotes trade, and gives out subsidies, among other benefits. Why
shouldn’t government provide similar support to help the commons work
well? If the commons can produce value efficiently, in a socially
constructive manner, and with benefits to future generations of
creators, it certainly deserves as much government support as markets.”

But how exactly can such policies be institutionalized?

Here’s my proposal, a set of 3 interlocking institutions, each with its own complementary mission and objectives:

1) Institute for the Protection and Development of the Commons

This is an institution that effectively supports the creation and maintenance of the commons, 

A) by diffusing knowledge about the legal and institutional means of creating and protecting them.
B) by creating a supportive infrastructure of cooperation that
facilitates the creation of commons-oriented initiatives by those who
have more difficulties accessing such necessary infrastructure
Example: the policies of the French city of Brest, led by Michel Briand
C) by maintaining relations with, and supporting the operation and
maintenance of the for-benefits institutions that are most often
associated with commons oriented initiatives

2) Institute for Open Business

This institution supports the creation of market value in
cooperation with the Commons, in ways that are compatible and do not
deplete commons-based value creation. Typically, this is the kind of
Institution that would support open source software businesses, open
textbook publishers, etc.. and support young and starting enterpreneurs
who want to engage in such.

Example: the OSBR.Ca in Toronto

3) Institute for Benefit-Sharing and Commons Recognition

This institution focuses on patronage and various forms of support
that do not destroy the peer to peer logic of voluntary contributions.

A) It creates a priori prizes, awards, bounties to support individuals involved in commons-based value-creation
B) in cooperation with the companies (stimulated by previous open
business institute), it stimulates benefit-sharing practices from
companies that profit from commons created value. It acts as a
meta-regular for such practices, identifying weak spots and stimulating
solutions for them.
C) it creates a posteriori patronage arrangements for individuals with a proven record in commons-based value creation
D) it studies and proposes policies for the overall stimulation of commons-based value creation

----- Original Message ----
> From: pat kane <playethical at gmail.com>
> To: Trebor Scholz <trebor at thing.net>
> Cc: "idc at mailman.thing.net" <idc at mailman.thing.net>
> Sent: Monday, June 8, 2009 12:49:14 AM
> Subject: Re: [iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory
> Hi all,
> I'm Pat Kane, I've also been invited by Trebor to kick off and  
> develop some of the discussions arount the nature, pleasure and pains  
> of "digital labor", leading up to the NY conference in November. I'm  
> a rights-holding musician, writer and consultant, and author of The  
> Play Ethic (http://www.theplayethic.com).
> In terms of a debate about whether users' interactivity with net  
> platforms is a form of exploitation of labor (in the Marxist sense),  
> I'm aware that I might be living a somewhat schizophrenic life. In  
> one domain, I'm a working musician who is part of a UK "legacy" act  
> from the 80's, Hue And Cry. Since our relaunch in late 2008, our  
> strategy has been to use the enthusiasm of online fandom to reanimate  
> our "brand", by using flexible and media-rich social networks  
> (particularly Ning) to capture the passions raised both by our live  
> performance, and other traditional outlets of media exposure (radio,  
> TV, press).
> In these sites – particularly the Music Club, at http:// 
> hueandcry.ning.com - we actively encourage and facilitate all kinds  
> of 'fan labor' (cultural note: our biggest hit was called "Labour of  
> Love" in 1987, more inspired by Gramsci than Bateson). This can  
> include: cam-phone audio-visual recording from gigs; giving fans the  
> opportunity to suggest and vote on songs they'd like us to perform  
> and record; allowing fans to upload their own covers of our songs.  
> But this doesn't include a lot of emergent, spontaneous activity that  
> comes from the users' own ability to generate sub-networks and forums  
> of their own, within the Hue And Cry Music Club site. We don't charge  
> subscription fees to the site (like many other bands), and we have a  
> programme of regular updates of audio-visual content produced by my  
> musical partner and I – again, freely streamed.
> There's much to say about this experience – which I hope to share at  
> the NY conference in November. But in terms of kicking off this  
> debate, the core point might be that our presumption has been that  
> we're dealing with a radically counter-commercial audience and  
> environment – one in which digital networked distribution of music  
> has driven its price point to effectively zero, and in which that  
> music has almost become a kind of 'community currency'. By that I  
> mean a system of exchange whose value accumulation is fan enthusiasm  
> and commitment, rather than straightforward monetary rent from IP- 
> identified saleable objects. (Although as Spotify, Last.fm and other  
> outfits show, a licensing system may be a possible recommodifier of  
> music consuming habits, though with the pressure of 'free' keeping  
> overall revenue much lower than the heydays of CD sales).
> So in terms of making a living, we have fallen upon the maxim "use  
> what is ubiquitous to drive people to what is scarce" – ie use the  
> ubiquity and free circulation of digital content to raise awareness  
> about those real-world moments of spatio-temporal enclosure (the gig,  
> the meet'n'greet, the music workshop) whose boundaries can be  
> controlled, and thus commodified. (Our refinement on that is to  
> create our own 'ubiquitous' commons of Hue And Cry music within the  
> Music Club – 'reterritorialising', to no doubt misuse Deleuze, the  
> deterritorialised flows of digital culture). It's not that we don't  
> try to sell recordings anymore – we do, and we are doing so, though  
> the objects these recordings are attached to are way beyond the old  
> CD, and are more lifestyle/luxury products with music inserted, an  
> extension of our "brand" across non-musical physical objects. But our  
> working presumption is that recorded music, because of digitisation,  
> networks and their innovations, is always under a huge gravitational  
> force dragging it towards free usage.
> And just to be clear, I come at the question of what value is being  
> realised by commercial platform owners by the free labor of users  
> from a small-business perspective – as artists seeking some kind of  
> income from our endeavours and enterprises. We are rights-holders in  
> our own small company, who seek to use non-commercial, part- 
> commercial (the usual social platforms) and fully-commercial (ie  
> larger distributors and syndicators) networks to promote our music,  
> both recorded and performed.
> Commercially, I should be agnostic-ironic about what networks are  
> best for that purpose. But civically, I'm a supporter of the  
> 'innovation commons' of the Net a la Lessig, and would resist any  
> attempt to tamper with the basic end-to-end architecture of the Web  
> (ie, to create tiers of net access with protocols restricted, for  
> whatever reason). I guess I have to stake out my petit-bourgeois,  
> mixed-economy, social-democrat traders' identity at the beginning.  
> And what I'm looking for from a conference/discussion on 'the  
> internet and playground and factory' is a new political economy of  
> the Net that can find a place for creative and sustainable cultural  
> enterprise, within this complex landscape (as Yochai Benkler says in  
> the Wealth of Networks) of market, state and 'sharing' economies. I  
> feel that the answers may lie as much in welfare and social policy.  
> That is, what kind of social provisions and support can be made for a  
> 'general intellect' now active throughout society, as the Italian  
> Marxists say? Does a four day week or a citizens' income more  
> effectively answer our anxieties about our affective and cognitive  
> 'lives' pouring into these networks, than a discourse about how our  
> free labor benefits Google's bottom line?
> Pat Kane
> http://theplayethic.com/patkane
> Twitter: theplayethic


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