[iDC] Learning from 1967

David Golumbia dgolumbia at virginia.edu
Mon Jun 22 00:17:56 UTC 2009

Trebor is so right to focus on the claim that "it is almost universally 
possible to do more outside of the corporate frameworks than inside of 

I hope Michael B. will forgive me for saying that I simply do not 
understand what is meant by this claim--and it is by no means the only 
version of it I've heard.

There are thousands of corporations on the US stock exchanges alone. 
Each of them holds sway over millions, billions, and even trillions of 
dollars of capital, made of labor, equipment and finances. Just to take 
one example, Microsoft can use its capital to exclude from the market, 
manipulate, obscure, and buy out all sorts of smaller initiatives and 
companies, open-source or privately funded. Few of the open-source OS or 
application platforms have made much of a dent in their monopolistic 
practices--government regulation has, to a limited extent, particularly 
in the EU. Microsoft can do, and DOES do, much more than any of us can 
individually. It does much more than "we"--at least any focused group of 
"us"--do collectively. It is a bad formation; it concentrates power; it 
gives the lie to the "freedom" of free markets.  How do Facebook, 
wikipedia, even linux and Open Office change that?

What worries me especially is a strong focus in these and similar 
discussions on "media" as if "media" equals "capital." Media is one very 
small part of capital. Yes, certain aspects of media production, 
consumption, and even creation have been "democratized" in some sense 
(though i'd argue about what that sense is). If you look at media in 
particular, the web looks as if it may be distributing some parts of 
culture that were previously more concentrated. But in the scheme of the 
capital life-world, they are small potatoes. They don't even affect mass 
entertainment media that much, unless i have missed all the youtube 
videos that are grossing top dollar and putting Fox out of business.

But how does that small democratization of media change what Microsoft 
does with its vast horde of cash? and that example has enough to do with 
computers to be possibly deceptive--how does it change what Pfizer does? 
What Waste Management and Luxor Oil and Genentech and Morgan Stanley and 
Wal-Mart and Hovnanian Homes do? Because they (the purportedly 
non-criminal but unevenly distributed, exploitative entities that are 
the bulk of contemporary world capital) are "the corporate framework," 
they are the bulk of "capital," and they do what they do regardless of 
facebook, youtube, twitter, and our email list.

I want to believe there is a socialist transformation lurking in 
networked computing--i really do. But I care more about the socialist 
transformation than I do about whether it emerges from computers. I 
never even hear a clear mechanism proposed by which that is supposed to 
happen. The glimmers I have heard of a mechanism are fanciful--somehow 
everyone quits their jobs and starts contributing to Wikipedia and 
Linux, and Wikpedia and Linux still exist even though nobody works for 
Cisco or IBM or Lenovo anymore to make the computers and routers on 
which the network runs... and how do the Wikipedia contributors buy 
lunch? and who makes the lunch? and who grows the vegetables for the 
lunch? and who drives the vegetables to the supermarket? and who works 
in the supermarket? and what in the world does social media have to do 
with any of that? not only can we all NOT become "knowledge workers"--a 
very small, elite few of us can. And that is no road to socialism as I 
understand it.


Trebor Scholz wrote:
> Michel Bauwens wrote:
> "We have enticed capital in building sharing and peer production platforms
> at no cost to us but our voluntary free time and our passionate creative
> pursuits, making them think that their miserable profits is worth creating
> the possibilities of massive post-monetary exchange beyond the commodity
> form." 
>  "Now the situation has reversed, it is almost universally possible to do
> more outside of the corporate frameworks than inside of them."
> "Capital has not won, it is merely recognizing the victory of participation
> and adapting to it."

David Golumbia
Assistant Professor
Media Studies, English, and Linguistics
University of Virginia

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