Frederic Janssens on Tue, 29 May 2012 13:34:05 +0200 (CEST)

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On Sun, May 27, 2012 at 10:21 AM, Jonathan Marshall <> wrote:

> hi Mark,
> >Thanks for trying to wrestle with all this.
> Thank you as well ! For some bizarre reason this email is appearing as
> written in italics, but i can't change it.
> Thanks for providing me an occasion to intervene.

> >The points that I have been making could be summarized as --
> >
> >1) The nature of the *economy* is shaped by the behaviors and attitudes
> of the
> >people who live in that economy.  We all make the world what it is.
> Yes no problems there. Of course from my discipline I would add things
> like power relations are important, social 'structures' are important,
> ecological relations are important, and so on.  These all, both enable and
> restrict kinds of behaviour.
> >2) These behaviors and attitudes are, in turn, "formed" by technological
> environment
> >in which these people live.  The world makes all of us what we are.
> i think a place where we might differ is here. For me the technological
> environment is important, but it is also shaped by the power relations,
> cultural relations, and so on. It is not the ultimate determining factor.
> It shapes and is shaped.

Yes, it is the mode of interaction between the factors that is the
interesting question.

We can for example ask why is it in contemporary capitalism (which is not
> quite the same as 19th Century capitalism but is related), that
> corporations spend so much time increasing forms of energy technology which
> will probably destroy the social basis which allows them to exist and
> prosper, when they could easily shift into newer technology ('renwables')
> which might not produce that disruption?
> Some of this is to do with maintaining old certainties, and some of it is
> to do with the limited range of problem solving techinques which seem
> allowed under that particular social formation. Perhaps easily avavilable
> technology limits their options?
> There are heaps of factors which determine a technologies impact and even
> whether it is taken up, or some of its options are taken up, or not.
> i would suggest that IT and networking was essential was essential to
> transnational capitalism, and was developed in that framework, and is still
> associated with it. It may ultimatrly  produce changes but the depth of
> those changes may well depend on other factors than just the technology.
> As passing remark there is also the fact that the printing press,
> gunpowder, and ocean going vessels did not have the same effect in China as
> they appear to have done in europe, until China's social order and culture
> changed in confrontation with 'the West'. Technological effects probably
> depend on context, as well as create contexts.
> Yes. My take on it : technology is an enabling factor.
Necessary but not sufficient.

> >3) We are now in the midst of a *radical* shift in this technological
> environment -- from a
> >mass-media (i.e. broadcast/one-way) "analog" economy to a *digital* (i.e.
> talk-back/two->way) economy.
> the question here is to what extent it is a replacement and to what extent
> it is an addenda to another shift in other social processes.
> >4) Accordingly, we should expect to see changes in behavior and attitudes
> -- not
> >completely or overnight but widely evident -- that are reflected in
> changes in the
> > corresponding economy.
> We may do indeed.
> the question there is: how do we know it is primarily a technological
> shift that is producing the observed effects and not, for example, the
> supposed effects which are allowing the technological transformation to be
> succesful?
> My general argument would be that 'new media' intensifies the previous
> social relations of capitalism, the hierarchies of capitalism, and the
> incoherencies of capitalism - this obviously changes some things. but that
> is a longe argument.
> Yes.  'new media' is the way capitalism has found at present to
on, uses in the way it knows, the potentialities of network technology.

> >5) Economic analysis that isn't robust enough to account for these
> changes will likely
> >fail to produce much insight and is more likely to reinforce earlier
> "biases" and add to
> >our confusion.
> True again. But then, i don't personally know of much economic analysis
> which actually focuses on  psychological, social, technological,
> ecological, and power relations either (at the same time anyway)....
> >What has long been called "consumerism" (and is sometimes called
> "late-stage
> > capitalism" or "software communism") is a description of the *effects*
> of mass-media as >a technological environment.
> This to me is a complicated question, as implied above. Without some
> consumerism, and focus on mass markets and giving people access to those
> markets, you may not have been able to sell televisions, or get audiences
> for movies at the 'mass level' etc.
> Conspicuous consumption in the sense depicted by Veblen and Bataille
> (amongst others) is conspicous across all kinds of cultures, so there is a
> possibility that consumerism plugs into that, when it becomes possible for
> those who are relatively poor and mobile.
> The decline  in wealth shared by the general poplace and its transfer to
> the corporate elite, as a result of the interactions of modern business and
> computerisation, would also mean that the market may well be changing from
> mass markets to something else. hence the importance of noting the increase
> in conspicuous consumption at the high end of the market.
> >This phenomenon, where advertising is used to induce a "commidification
> of desires"
> >in the population, has been particularly acute since the advent of
> television in the 1950s.
> > The term "eyeballs" is often used to describe the "target" in this form
> of economy.  People
> > are said to be "programmed" to behave in particular ways in this
> economic regime.
> Whether people were ever that programmed was moot, in my opinion,
> certainly they participated in status and satisfaction, battles which were
> opened for them.

Yes, that is the object of the programming :
stimulate those drives to a level that overrides anything else.

As the woolworths people suggest (who are still involved in mass markets),
> advertisers may still be able to command eyeballs, and also command
> impulses. And as i suggested earlier there may now be no delay necessary
> between desire and 'satisfaction' in consumption.
> >What has been called "new media" (i.e. a term that I "coined" circa 1989)
> operates in a
>  >radically different fashion from mass-media.
> But, even if true, again the point is that it does not act in the absence
> of mass media - or of other social factors.
> >It encourages "interactivity"
> I would prefer to say that certain structures of communication which are
> present in some new media forums encourage interactivity - and encourage it
> in different ways. For instance nettime, to me, is far more usefully
> interactive than say facebook, twitter, linked in and so on.
> >and could be said to be composed of "eyeballs that talk back."

> The question here might be talk back to what? and how?

If it is left to capitalism to decide,
the talk back will be canalised in, or restricted to, monetarily profitable
The only question, inside capitalism, is which is the most profitable way.
So there are conflicts between 'old media' and 'new media'.

> clicking 'like' next to a product is not really talking back, in i think
> your sense of talking back, especially when 'likes' can be bought.
> Somebody in a que behind me was talking about putting the cheese platter
> they do on facebook - which by the sound of it would have been an advert
> for a particular vendor - why spend on advertising when your customers may
> do it for you?.
> it also seems that online the 'right' seems to be winning the propaganda
> war, about things like climate change and so  on - the talk back still
> reflects the dominant coporate view of the world (pretty much re-presenting
> the murdoch line) - there is no explosion of factivity in argument, no
> sense to me anyway, that we have a new 'democratic' discourse arising from
> the internet. There is perhaps an increase in social paranoia if anything.

That propaganda war was started before the appearance of 'new media' :
History of Corporate Funding of Conservative Think Tanks

In 'old media' it has involved 'media segmentation' such as 'Fox news'.
In 'new media' that segmentation is even easier.
So representation universes interact less, which produces paranoia.
That is not a necessary property of network media,
only the property of presently developed 'new media'.

> the other thing notable about online economies is that monopoly seems
> natural.  There is one amazon, one google, one facebook, one youtube etc...
> Any competition comes from old media or business who arrived online at more
> or less the same time.

Monopoly seems natural because only online business models conducive
to a monopoly situation are attractive to (venture) capital investment.

> >Many have noticed these functional/technological differences but
> elaborating the
> >expected differences in behaviors and attitudes and the anticipated
> impact on the
> > economy has not yet been widely discussed.  An example of the literature
> about
> >these changed behaviors and attitudes is the 1999 "Cluetrain Manifesto."
> My impression of the cyberanalysis scene when i first entered it, was that
> it was almost nothing other than elaborating 'expected differences', so
> much so that it seemed to be original to actually look at what was
> happening now! Not so much the case nowdays, thankfully.
> >Much as aspects of older technological environments persisted as
> television became dominant, including
> >books, radio, movies, newspapers etc -- albeit substantially altered to
> "participate" in the television era --
> >all of these previous behaviors and attitudes also linger, sometimes
> nostalgically and with strong
> >commitments, making any contemporary economy decidedly "mixed."
> so this is one of my points, the economy and other social life is not
> determined by one factor alone.
> >Accordingly, today the situation is a "compound" of various technological
> environments.  In particular,
> >while many people have a sense that the Internet "changed everything,"
> they are still hard-pressed to
> >identify or verbalize what has changed in their own behaviors and
> attitudes.  Clearly differences in
> >personal circumstances and cultural/national milieus further complicate
> the matter.
> >
> >Nonetheless, analysis of the (political-)economy that ignore these
> changes in behaviors and attitudes
> >will likely miss much of what is going on.  While applying frameworks
> that were proposed 100 (say Weber)
> >or 200 (say Marx) or 300 (say Mandeville) years ago can be interesting
> and even gratifying, unless they
> >were explicit about the economic effects of technological environments,
> they will themselves need to
> >be examined in the light of what we have subsequently learned
> but perhaps we should also learn from what we have learnt, and not reduce
> everything to one factor :)
> jon
> Yes. Technology is the 'new' factor,
so it is important to understand the potentialities it opens.
But it is also important to know that the potentialities it opens will not
unfold 'naturally'.
There are choices to be made;
and the choices made 'automatically' by capitalism are not necessarily the

These questions are not only theoretical for me.
I have been thinking about a specific potential use of computer networks
since the early 80's.
As I am very slow, and that the concept evolved and amplified,
I figured somebody else would come up with what I was conceiving.
But it did not happen.
Most of the material preconditions for its implementation are now satisfied.
The present, and in my view very primitive, social media have nevertheless
been able to contribute to the emergence of the arab spring.
That has renewed my impression that what I have in mind
could have a positive contribution to the present global situation.
But I am now inhibited from seeking help to implement it, because,
as I started writing a presentation of what was to do, I came to the
that I see no way, at the moment, to prevent the manipulation of what I
for the purpose of capitalist 'monetisation'.

It allows a finer grained, and in a certain sense 'machine understandable',
semantic representation.
Without strong deontological constraints it could enable much more subtle,
and insidious, forms of 'thought control' and manipulation;
for commercial and/or state purposes.

At present, neither states nor corporations (cf. facebook) seem ready to
voluntary submit themselves to strong deontological constraints.

So I am now turning 'philosophical'.
I try to write a formulation of 'Ethics', to permit a clear statement of
the constraints an economic system should obey in order not to be 'evil'
with respect to the present potentialities of technology.

Can capitalism evolve to respect those constraints ?
Or would the adapted system deserve another name ?
That is not my problem.

I do not imply that capitalism has ever been 'not evil'.
I am not a marxist; but in this conjuncture there is something to be said
for the,
somewhat teleological, marxian concept of capitalism having
'fulfilled its historic role, that of developing the productive forces' and
that the
'existing relations of production' are now an obstacle to further
(I have adapted the argument somewhat).
That is the sort of 'evil' I mean.

It is also an allusion to the Google motto, the question being :
would Google be able to adapt its business model,
in order not to be 'evil' in that sense ?

Recently I found a site that presents a list of requirements for a project
that is not too far from what I have in mind,
but they do not seem as yet to have a roadmap for getting there :


Frederic Janssens

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