[iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory

Julian Kücklich julian at kuecklich.de
Mon Jun 8 21:05:06 UTC 2009

Hi all,

I have been encouraged by Trebor and Biella to chime in on what is
already quite an impressive discussion about play and labour on the
interwebz, and I also feel compelled to add my two cents to the stakes
because I've written a few bits and pieces on what I call playbour ---
mostly within the digital games production nexus, but also in other
pockets of post-productive living (I am painfully aware that the most
extensive piece of writing that I refer to above, my dissertation on
deludology, is still not available to public scrutiny, which I will
rectify at the earliest convenience --- meanwhile, if you like, take a
look at playability.de/pub for some of the published extracts from

But let me unpack.

The transformation that Trebor refers to in his introductory piece may
have its roots online but it is quite evident to all of us that it has
now spilled over the confines of the virtual and seeped into the very
fabric of the actual, the material, the tangible. Everywhere we look
--- be it journalism, the wretched creative industries (which
encompass everything from designing bubble gum wrappers to making new
drugs), the financial markets, or the production of physical goods, it
seems increasingly ludicrous to pay people for their productive labour
when production has become almost entirely autonomous of the economic
and political contexts in which it appeared to be so firmly inscribed.
The latest crisis is just a symptom of a loss of orientation in a
world where the established models provided by Marx, Weber and Smith
do not provide guidance anymore.

So it's not just a question of value, but also a question of values, a
distinction that is increasingly difficult to uphold in a world where
the value of a product or a company is determined by how compatible it
is to the values of its users (think facebook, or twitter). It seems
to me that what was of value in the pre-digital age was the discrete,
packaged and self-contained product, often manufactured through a
process that could itself be broken down into discrete, packaged and
self-contained steps. In the post-productive age value has shifted to
the stream, the continuous, the Flood (a metaphor borrowed from the
video game Halo), and these streams are itself generated through
messy, continuous, excessive (call them biopolitical, if you will)

And I am not just talking about the
snorting-coke-off-a-naked-hookers-ass world of advertising and design
here, but also about software production, clothes manufacturing, and
food processing, all of which have become nomadic, following the lure
of free-trade agreements, cheap labour, and the availability of tax
breaks and materials. It's the Flood, all right, and what it leaves
behind is the flotsam and jetsam of globalization, along with homo
sacer in its most wretched, abject form, stripped of identity,
mobility, and spirit. So it's not all good. And crucially, of course,
the temporarily sustainable forms of post-productive life, the
twittering, flickring, friendfeeding multitude is entirely dependent
on the destruction of human life as we know it.

But let's take a step back from this dystopian vision for a moment and
talk about games. Importantly, I think, the internet and the video
game are both products of the Cold War military-industrial complex,
which has structured the way we live today to a large extent. They are
both posty-scarcity media, developed in university labs flush with
military money and that is the message that it took them 50 years to
impart. To be fair, packet switching and efficient subroutines (which
were necessary to fit game code on small chips) both follow the logic
of scarcity, but in their teleology, their technosocial impetus, both
of these media followed a logic of abundance. The game, which is both
larger and smaller, older and younger, than the internet, had the
advantage of drawing on a tradition of play, which has always adhered
to the logic of the potlatch, of "pure waste" (Caillois), and it
infused the internet, and then the world wide web with what I have
called an "ideology of play."

I have written about the ideology of play on this list before, so I
won't go into much detail now. The concept is neither novel nor
complex, it just provides a convenient handle on some stuff that I am
struggling with both in my life and my work (if this is a distinction
that still makes sense). What is important to bear in mind is that
play --- in its rarefied, unadulterated form, which probably never
existed, except in the minds of cultural theorists who never set foot
into a casino --- is autotelic and has no end than the one it finds in
itself. So it is by definition unproductive, and even gambling is
ultimately a zero-sum game. And since there is no reward in play it
demands that players devote themselves to the game fully and
unreservedly --- lest they be labelled spoilsports, cheaters or

It seems to me that this is the logic (post-Aristotelian, for sure,
but still a logic) is what governs the processes of production and
distribution on the internet, and increasingly in all other domains of
life, as commerce, art, communication, transport, sex, food, etc.,
transform themselves into digital expressions. So we are no longer in
the realm or era of production but in that of pollination, to use a
Stieglerian phrase. This of course raises the question of
remuneration, but this might be too thorny an issue to tackle at the
end of this long and rambling missive. So I will leave that to less
frazzled minds than mine to sort out.

So what can I offer to this discussion apart from a rather
self-indulgent meditation on the nature of play? Maybe this: 1) The
playground has become a factory, but the factory has become a
playground, so the logic of production does no longer apply. 2)
Resistance is futile but cheating is possible. 3) If we want to
understand the rules of this new game, we will have to become players
ourselves. 4) Playing the game means wagering everything but because
of 2) we can bend the rules to our advantage and come out not
necessarily with more but with something else. 5) "After the game is
before the game" (Sepp Herberger).


2009/6/8  <trebor at thing.net>:
> Good morning all,
> Life is not all about labor in the traditional sense but what creates
> economic value is continuously changing and expanding.
> Jonathan Beller describes this as the financialization of everyday life
> (our attention, imagination, creativity, and faith). This financialization
> applies as much to the mortgage that Amanda mentioned as it does to the
> current economic shakedown, the dotcom crash, and to what happens when we
> log on. The value of new social media, speculative and "real" (in terms of
> actual revenue) is created through advertising and the digital traces of
> our attention. Driven much more by the desire for praise than
> remuneration, people participate and this social participation has become
> the oil of the digital economy.
> In 1928, Bertolt Brecht wrote his poem Questions from A Worker Who Reads,
> where he points to the labor of the cooks, soldiers, and masons, which
> cannot be found in history books. Today, Burak Arikan's Meta Markets draws
> attention to user labor by creating a stock market for trading "socially
> networked creative products" (http://meta-markets.com).
> Tracks of our behavior, the public management of our relationships with
> others are recorded, sorted, analyzed and sold while we are enjoying
> ourselves and benefit in many ways. IPv6 comes into this discussion. It's
> really all quite frictionless despite Digg's Boston Digital Party and the
> complaints of Facebook users starting in September 2006. For me, these
> events are spectacles of Internet democracy; they are consumer feedback
> loops. We are negotiating a product that we are co-producing.
> In the middle of the eighteenth century, Diderot and d'Alembert published
> Encyclopédie, which celebrated the virtues of labor. Throughout its
> twenty-seven volumes, articles dealt with everything from baking bread to
> making nails. What would Diderot include in his revised edition today? A
> few places to start--
> virtual volunteering (i.e., “… if handled adeptly, [unpaid Verizon
> volunteers] hold considerable promise" http://is.gd/T6Q6)
> creating meta data (i.e., Flickr Commons)
> uploading and/or watching/looking at photos and videos
> socializing (playful acts of reciprocity)
> paying attention to advertising
> micro-blogging (status updates, Twitter)
> co-innovating (i.e., bicycles, mountain bikes, skate boards, cars, etc)
> posting blog entries and comments (i.e., the bloggers who work for
>  Huffington Post)
> performing emotional work (presenting a personality that “fits in”)
> posting news stories
> referring (i.e., Digg.com)
> creating virtual objects (i.e., Second Life)
> beta testing (i.e, Netscape Navigator 1998)
> providing feedback
> consuming media (i.e., watching videos)
> consuming advertisement
> data work (i.e., filling in forms, profiles etc)
> viral marketing by super-users
> artistic work (i.e., video mashups, DeviantArt, Learning to Love You More)
> Most of this about pleasure, play, personal benefit, and profit-- all at
> the same time. It's fun, sure, and the price we pay for the "free
> services" is complex. Michael Warner is a good place to start thinking
> about that:
> "Our lives are minutely administered and recorded to a degree
> unprecedented in history;" as Warner put it, "We navigate a world of
> corporate agents that do not respond or act as people do. Our personal
> capacities, such as credit, turn out on reflection to be expressions of
> corporate agency."
> (Publics and Counterpublics, p52)
> For now,
> Trebor
> =
> R. Trebor Scholz
> The New School University
> Re: Remuneration
> "A Fine Is a Price"
> http://www.citeulike.org/user/yoav/article/1953151
> _______________________________________________
> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (distributedcreativity.org)
> iDC at mailman.thing.net
> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive:
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream:
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
> RSS feed:
> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
> iDC Chat on Facebook:
> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref

More information about the iDC mailing list