[iDC] response to Julian Kücklich

Michael H Goldhaber michael at goldhaber.org
Sat Jun 13 20:13:27 UTC 2009

Hi Julian and everyone,

I disagree that the notion of dyadic classes never made much sense. On  
the contrary it was an is analytically of great value, even if it  
ignores some intermediate positions. The dynamics of societies are  
considerably clarified by the concept. '

As for whether Facebook, twitter  and other means of social networking  
aid the attention economy as I use the term, we need not only think in  
terms of huge attention absorbers like Oprah. There are after all  
small capitalists as well as big ones, and there are small stars as  
well as big ones. to be a star, at the limit you only need to take in  
more attention than you pay out.

If you choose to define a star as someone who takes in several times  
as much attention as paid out, I still suspect that many of the  
participants in this very discussion would qualify, and more might  
well want to. It is critical that we remember this as we discuss  
issues such as exploitation. It is also important to consider this  
possibility when we discuss the apparent equalizing trends of social  
media. While I would not rule out the possibility that some such media  
could tremendously aid  a move toward fuller equality, that cannot be  
taken for granted, nor would the resulting equality necessarily be so  
complete as some might hope.

Juliann wrote:
Hi Michael & all,


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.


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