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Re: <nettime> The $100bn Facebook question: Will capitalism survive 'val
Michael H Goldhaber on Tue, 6 Mar 2012 10:44:16 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> The $100bn Facebook question: Will capitalism survive 'value abundance'?

In this thread, I tend to come down more on the side of Michel and Brian, but I think they leave out a lot. It makes considerable sense, I argue, to consider Facebook and the like in my own Attention Economy perspective*, which I have been articulating since the ’80’s. There are Facebook and Twitter ‘stars” in my terminology, those who have many fans or friends, whose work gets “shared” or re-tweeted, etc. They certainly gain from such sites. Ordinary “users” are mostly fans, but they may gain  in the ways that fans can gain through heir sharing, their own postings and and through the networks of their own possible fans, or co-conspirators or cooperators or whatever. Facebook , etc. Thus they mainly operate not in the capitalist economy but in the rising and completely different Attention Economy. 

All this is before taking account of  advertising, data mining and the like. For the most part, within capitalism, advertising merely redistributes how consumption spending will occur; it adds little to the totals spent. Supporters of data-mining for advertising purposes argue that “consumers” benefit by finding out about products that may suit them more than average products designed for mass selling. I suspect there is some truth in this.  (It is likely true that with no advertising at all, consumption spending would decline somewhat, but it’s quite difficult to know how  much. If  consumption does rise, in capitalism, so does employment and income, and these have certainly not greatly increased as Facebook, Google and Twitter ads have grown.) 

Responses to advertising can  be direct or indirect. The latter occurs when someone who influences another either buys the item and impresses with it somehow or merely informs the other of it or enthuses over it. However that may be, when people do respond to advertising directly or indirectly, that is buy the goods advertised, they are subsidizing not only the companies that advertise, but also the media through which the advertising has reached them and also, of course, the shareholders of those media. It is the purchasers rather than just anyone subject to advertising who therefore subsidize everyone’s experience on sites such as Facebook. 

I, for one, rarely if ever respond to or even notice the Facebook ads offered to me (or most other ads anywhere I look).  I thus am one of many who could be said to exploit those who do respond.  But Facebook has no alternative but to keep non-responders reasonably happy, because without us, the total usership would plummet, and the value to even the responders would sink as well. Among other things, that means such sites have to keep from making ads too visible and annoying. In fact the success of Facebook is a result of being sensitive enough to keep members interested in the total site, and it has to offer all sorts of amenities, such as free groups and pages that allow individual members and organizations to do their own free “advertising’ for whatever they believe in or want to focus discussion on. 

I think the correct way to view all this is that the primary purpose of Facebook is rather to enhance both collective experience and the pure Attention Economy than to make money or save capitalism. The secondary goal of making money remains necessary for Facebook to be able to operate in a world that has not yet learned that making money is sinking in importance. In critique, focusing on that goal overmuch is I think a mistake. 

*See e.g., Goldhaber, The Attention Economy and the Net
as wells most entries on http://www.goldhaber.org


On Mar 5, 2012, at 11:31 AM, Brian Holmes wrote:

> On 03/03/2012 08:22 PM, Jonathan Marshall wrote:
>> Let me put it this way, if you will allow. People using facebook, or
>> any other source, engage in labour. The question here is do they get
>> the full return on that labour? The answer is, I believe, 'no'.  Do
>> they get anything from that labour, yes of course, just as they do
>> with most other forms of labour under capitalism.
> >
> > Do they
> > autonomously consent to the amount of extra value being made out of
> > their labour by facebook, and then (perhaps) that value being used
> > against them? Do, they, in many cases even know about this profit
> > being made from their labour? These points are perhaps more
> > ambiguous.
> Understanding how society works, how its subtler forms of domination work, is quite an important thing. And I believe that's what you're trying to get at Jon, so I follow you there. Here's the thing maybe I can add:
> Facebook clearly needs the *users* to generate, not just the daily activity of the network, but above all its huge valuation on the stock market and the actual revenue it gets from selling statistics, which are its raisons d'etre. So one should best start with the nature of the phenomenon, this fact of "using Facebook." What is the *value* of using Facebook?

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