[iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory

Jonathan Beller jbeller at pratt.edu
Tue Jun 9 16:04:02 UTC 2009

Hi all, same drill, Trebor, etc.

Very happy to be a part of this discussion group / conference and my  
sincere thanks to Trebor for including me among the participants.
My current interests beyond The Cinematic Mode of Production and  
Acquiring Eyes have to do with thinking through media technologies  
themselves as imbricated in the histories of colonialism/imperialism/ 
empire as well as gender and racial formations. Technologies, frozen  
under what Allen Feldman has termed "platform fetishism" often are not  
legible as products of the lived social mediations that are the  
conditions of possibility of our "media." The practices and histories,  
which themselves constitute the appearance, uses and significance of  
various technologies, are then seemingly frozen into the apparatus and  
for most practical purposes rendered invisible. Thus the utilization  
of media quite often seems like a far more autonomous (and thus  
ahistorical) exercise  (a user plus a value-neutral technology) than  
it actually is. How to make the playground pulse with the struggles  
that underpin, situate and overdetermine our very presence (virtual or  
otherwise) in this, our space-time-now.

K. Am also interested in ye ole real subsumption of society by capital  
and the expropriation of the cognitive-linguistic capacities of the  
species (that would be us, I guess.) Two main aspects here: the role  
of visual and audiophonic media in the deliverance (in both senses) of  
this emergent discursive situation. Shouldn't we consider further that  
with the rise of photography and phonography language became one  
writable medium among others (and was thereby relativized and  
demoted). Shouldn't also, all of the discourse theory of the 20th  
century be rethought in this light? Psychoanalysis, Structuralism,  
Post-structuralism -- all artifact of new modalities of mediation.  
Second, the situation of writing now: not from the point of view of  
those of us who fill out forms all day long but from those (parts) of  
us who are looking to crack the code(s). This is where I am very  
interested in the work of so many of you on this list. I am looking  
forward to learning more about the extraoridnary things people are  
thinking and doing. For my part, I will try to direct my comments in a  
way that explores the implications for the kinds of writing and  
speaking we do, which is to say the politics of our own practice.  
Don't all our locals, petty or otherwise, bear the signature of the  
globopolis? What then might a geopolitical pedagogy of the oppressed  
look like?

Looking forward,


Jonathan Beller
Humanities and Media Studies
and Critical and Visual Studies
Pratt Institute
jbeller at pratt.edu
718-636-3573 fax

On Jun 8, 2009, at 5:05 PM, Julian Kücklich wrote:

> 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
> that).
> 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)
> processes.
> 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
> triflers.
> 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).
> Julian.
> 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
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