[Marxism] "When Facebook Isn't Fun, or, Why iLife Isn't My Life: Immaterial Labor in the Age of Web 2.0" (Draft)

David Powers cyborgk at gmail.com
Thu Mar 5 07:41:48 MST 2009


"When Facebook Isn't Fun, or, Why iLife Isn't My Life: Immaterial
Labor in the Age of Web 2.0"

***DRAFT OUTLINE***

I. It Is Your Patriotic Duty to Consume

Consumption, in the capital system, is not only a means of individuals
reproducing themselvees, i.e. in the consumption of basic necessities;
it is objectively necessary to the reproduction of the system. Thus
Bush must admonish good Americans, in the wake of 9/11, to please go
on consuming as usual. Underconsumption represents a danger to the
system, especially to a system based on overproduction of goods that
are not produced on any rational basis but only in the hopes of
realizing a profit (i.e. according to Marx commodities exist only for
their exchange value, not for their use value). It is imperative for
capitalism that the commodity be consumed at some point, in order for
capital, which has been invested in creating the commodity form, may
again return to the form of money and thus capital. (M-C-M =
Money-Commodity-Money).

II. The Curse of Consumption as (Re)Production

Thus, the more one consumes commodities, the more one participates in
the reproduction of capitalism. The consumption of commodities is one
aspect of the reproduction of everyday life under capitalism.
Consumption of commodities, in this sense, must be understood as an
entire system, that includes the consumption of advertising material,
the work of choosing which commodities to buy, and the choice of a
lifestyle or identity based on the consumption of particular kinds of
commodities, both physical and cultural commodities (i.e. the high
school student who identifies as "goth" or the enlightened consumer
who buys only organic food and listens to NPR). Consumption, far from
being an exercise of individual freedom, is in capitalism a duty and a
form of unpaid work which is essential to the ongoing survival of the
system.

III. The Reproduction of Everyday Life

Understanding the productive aspect of consumption requires
understanding the way capitalism, as a totality, reproduces itself in
all the mundane details of everyday existence. The works of Adorno and
Lefebvre are key here, for both wrote extensively on this very
subject. By exploring their theories, we can deepen our understanding
of how contemporary capitalism operates not only in the realm of
production, but as a total system that produces and reproduces persons
and subjectivities and not only commodities.

IV. Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk for Free

>From consumption, we must now return to the realm of production in its
cultural (and immaterial) form. With the so called "web 2.0
revolution," we find that consumers are, in their leisure time, also
becoming producers. But in this case, they are performing unpaid labor
in the service of major corporations. Whereas once corporations had to
pay workers to produce content for individuals to consume during their
so called "free time," now consumers are producing such content
themselves, for free! (This gives a whole new meaning to the term
"free time"). Insofar as this production occurs on large corporate
websites, such as MySpace and Facebook, consumer-producers are in fact
allowing themselves to be exploited, creating capital (and surplus
value) for the large corporations without receiving any compensation.

V. The Struggle for Everyday Life

Despite the overwhelming colonization of everyday life by the forces
of capitalism, there are always already new possibilities for struggle
opened up by changes in technology including the so called Web 2.0
revolution. Especially, the same technologies used by the major
corporations are also available to individuals and can be used in
alternative ways; mailing lists, blogs, bulletin boards, and personal
websites offer the possibility to produce critical thought and to act
in non-productive ways that do not strengthen the system. Indeed,
while overall the Facebook phenomena is an example of a new form of
exploitation of immaterial labor, its content is ambivalent; one can
imagine a Karl Marx or Theodor Adorno Facebook page, that uses the
technology precisely in order to spread critical thinking that weakens
the system, dispels ideology, and breaks through reified and false
consciousness. One can also organize anti-capitalist and subversive
actions more effectively using the internet, cell phones, and Web 2.0
technologies. As long as capitalism exists there will also exist the
possibility for anti-capitalist action, a possibility that lays the
groundwork for future revolution.

***

This is obviously just an outline, and the essay itself will require
extensive research to complete. Constructive comments would be greatly
appreciated.

David Powers
March 5, 2009




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