Saturday, June 27, 2009

further notes on the database economy

Free cooperation, collaboration (the term preferred, for its echo of illegitimacy, by Florian Schneider 2006), organised networks (Rossiter 2006) are offered as alternatives to the existing order and the existing economy. In an early essay on the theme of the new economics of networks Richard Barbrook (1998) pointed out the existence off two parallel economies, one based on the exchange of gifts, the other on exchange of money and contracts. The gift economy is a quality of peer-to-peer projects, of which Linux and Wikipedia are the most cited examples, along with Project Gutenberg and (although it's origins are often forgotten) the first Web manifestation of the Internet Movie Database. In the latter case commercialisation was a function of success, as measured in throughput of data. In the case of Linux, service providers like Red Hat and Ubuntu have found business models appropriate to the FLOSS ethos, even though somewhat controversial. What is notable about these projects is that they emerge from existing communities, that is from loose networks with shared interests; that therefore community-building, where it occurs, is a by-product, not a goal; and that the central activity is to provide a service which the donors want and are prepared to contribute their labour to,

But where the gift of labour has been commercialised, as it has in social networking, the surveillant functions of the database economy serve not only to target but to average, as Foucault was anxious to demonstrate in the late lectures (2003, 2004, 2007). Here the virtual nature of the crowd, its power to act, is removed by a process of forecasting how much deviance is tolerable in a population. The challenge then is to challenge the auto-archiving of network activity with an extension. This might well be inspired by Adorno's insistence throughout his late lectures on negative dialectics (2008) that what is essential is not the actual, nor identity, but precisely non-identity: the non-identical nature of the world to which Western thought perpetually ascribes identity. In an extension of the same argument, Adorno argues that there can be no greater good as long as one person must suffer, or one person sacrifice their native demand for happiness (2000).

The challenge is to drive the logic of individualism to its far side; to turn the compulsory choice of consumerism into actual freedom.