[iDC] Relation of my work to conference on "The Internet as Playground and Factory, "

Julian Kücklich julian at kuecklich.de
Sat Jun 13 15:33:03 UTC 2009

Hi Michael & all,

I try not to use the term attention economy, because it has somehow
fallen in the hands of mutinous marketeers, and once they get their
hands on something there's not much you can do. I do, however, agree
with the central tenet of that argument: there's not enough attention
to go around, and it's getting scarcer and scarcer. I am certainly not
the first to suggest that we may have to turn our attention [sic] to
an ecology rather than an economy of attention, but it was something
else in your post that provoked this reply.

You write:
> I argue we are
> passing from one dyadic class system (capitalists and worker) [...] to a new dyadic class
> system of stars and fans

I think we all agree that the old dyad of capitalists and workers
never made much sense to begin with (and this is one of the reasons we
have so many communist -isms), while the new dyad is neither new, nor
does it make much sense in the context of the oh so tautologically
named "social media." I think what we see evolving there (and by
extension everywhere) is a system of microstardom and tactical fandom
that calls into question the classical power relationship between fans
and stars.

This is obviously preceded by alt.fan communities such as the ones
Jenkins writes about, but I am not interested so much in slash fiction
etc., but rather in the microfame that exists on myspace, facebook,
twitter, flickr, etc. The recent influx of "real celebrities", such as
Oprah Winfrey, into the twitterverse provides a good example because
it draws attention to the difference between a mass media attention
economy (in this case, TV) and a multitudinous media attention
economy. Oprah barged into twitter, expecting that people were
actually willing to pay attention to the mundane details of her life,
but as it turned out the mundane details of non-celebrities' lives are
actually more interesting (Oprah of all people should know).

In numerical terms, Oprah and Ashton Kutcher may be the "stars" of the
twitterverse, but they are stars only in the sense that they provide a
kind of background radiation for the real action. While indigenous
microfame is rare, twitter often amplifies attention capital acquired
elsewhere, and consolidates distributed and fragmented microaudiences.
At the same time, however, the agency of microaudiences is heightened
in multitudinous media such as twitter, and they can use this agency
tactically as well as strategically, and often do. In this context, it
is significant that while "friending" is the basic unit operation (to
use Ian Bogost's term) of facebook, the basic unit operation of
twitter is not "following" but "blocking". So if someone is perceived
as abusing their microfame this is sanctioned not just by a denial of
attention but by a reduction of that person(a)'s sphere of influence.

So I think we are not dealing with a dyadic system at all, but with
something much less structured and, for lack of a better word, more
fun (fun also being the mechanism underwriting new forms of
(self-)exploitation). Let's not forget, however, that achieving and
maintaining microfame is a form of labour, and one not so dissimilar
to the kind of work described in the MechTurk presentation sent around
by Matthew yesterday: it's affective and relational labour, much of
which consists in maintaining a good relationship with the
"requesters" (or "followers").  It seems to me that the decisive
difference between mass media fame and microfame resides in the fact
that the former is systemic, while the latter is endemic. In other
words: in mass media stars are made, while in multitudinous media
stars make themselves by performing their virtuosity across different

This does not mean that MechTurk workers are in the same boat as
"social media entrepreneurs" but it seems evident that menial labour
is increasingly informed by entrepreneurial ideology while
entrepreneurship now requires a much more labour-intensive
micromanagement of audiences across a range of different terrains than
the relationship management (schmoozing, corruption, collusion, etc.)
engaged in by "capitalists."

So, yes, the terrain we are dealing with is "complex and changing,
with alliances and antagonisms springing up in every possible
permutation," but I would contend that the binary oppositions of
stars/fans and capitalists/workers have been replaced by contextual
unit operations that follow a multivalent rather than a dyadic logic.


2009/6/13 Michael H Goldhaber <michael at goldhaber.org>:
> Trebor Scholz has asked me to offer a brief comment as to how my work
> relates to the conference on "The Internet as Playground and
> Factory," https://lists.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2009-June/003445.html
> To properly understand the nature and role of “digital labor” requires
> understanding the nature of current society and how it seems to be evolving.
> My work on the Attention Economy suggests that the best way to do this is in
> terms of the emergence of a new, post-capitalist class society. (See , e.g.
> http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/519/440
> Btw, I originated the term ‘Attention Economy  in the 1980’s, but is now too
> often used in a way that deviates markedly from what I mean; I am using it
> in the original way here.)  This new class society revolves around the
> scarcity of the attention available from other human beings (and its
> desirability, even from immense audiences). The two new classes are then
> those who have succeeded in getting much more than an equal slice of
> attention (for brevity I label these  people “stars”) and those who obtain
> less attention than they pay out (“fans”). In other words, I argue we are
> passing from one dyadic class system (capitalists and worker) revolving
> around money, routine labor and standardized material goods, though  not to
> a classless society  — as Marx had hoped — but instead to a new dyadic class
> system of stars and fans, revolving around various forms of expression and
> the attention such expression hopes to garner.
> The interplay between these two dyads (the four classes named above) is
> complex and changing, with alliances and antagonisms springing up in every
> possible permutation. The same person can certainly be in an old class as
> well as a new one, and might identify as a member of two as well ). One
> aspect of digital labor would then be what I call “fan’s work” which is
> apparently voluntary (unpaid) but supportive of and conditioned by the
> wishes of one, or more often a few or more stars.
> In my view, we are already farther along than it might seem in the
> transition to the dominance of the new kind of economy.  I have a loose
> calculation ( http://goldhaber.org/blog/?p=80 ) to support that contention.
> Also, even in the current  downturn of the old economy, the attention
> economy continues to gather strength.
> Michael H. Goldhaber
> michael at goldhaber.org
> mgoldh at well.com
> blog www.goldhaber.org
> older site, www.well.com/user/mgoldh
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