Tag Archives: two-stop flow

Money, money, money, money: How much is the global commodification of culture costing us?

The chorus of the “The Money Song” from the Broadway musical Cabaret sums up the “cents” of this week’s readings:

Money makes the world go round
The world go round, the world go round
Money makes the world go round
It makes the world go round

A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound
A buck or a pound, a buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go round
That clinking, clanking sound
Can make the world go round

Money, money, money, money
Money, money, money, money
Money, money, money, money, money (Kander, 1966)

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as Master of Ceremonies in "Cabaret."

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as Master of Ceremonies in "Cabaret."

In contemporary American civilization, everything is a commodity. The only value is economic: What is it worth in dollars and cents? Can it be produced, circulated, and consumed? And it’s not enough to enjoy our commodified culture here in the United States; we produce it for export worldwide so that everyone on Earth can consume it, whether they want to or not. And it’s the advent of new media – the Internet, smart cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – that has enabled us to do this.

Graham (2000) argues that these new media have created a world where “the spheres of production, circulation, and consumption” overlap (p. 133).

[S]ince the ascendancy of digital ICTs [information and communication technologies], the monetary system of exchange appears to have taken on an autonomous trajectory and existence; it appears to have become an end in itself. … It derives its conception as a system of “wealth creation” purely by the authority of the experts who concoct the abstractions upon which this global financial system thrives. … This massive and parasitic system of speculation includes trade in the most abstract of commodities, such as “credit derivatives, call warrants, roubles, and baht.” … But financial “commodities” have no intrinsic use-value whatsoever. They generate value only as long as they are continuously exchanged. (p. 134).

Graham could be describing the financial meltdown of 2008, which began when trading in similar ephemeral financial commodities ground to a halt because they lost their “use-value” in the minds of investors around the world. He continues:

Today, the “globalized” financial system of exchange values quite overtly mediates social perceptions of the relationships between space, time, power, and persons. … [P]eople’s perceptions, rather than concrete “things,” appear to be the primary objects of production in developed countries today. This is made possible by the advanced technological facility for people to commodify increasingly intimate aspects of social life, combined with the intrinsically human nature and functions of language and thought. (p. 134-135)

Thought has become a commodity, with language the way it is promoted.

Systemic capital has steadily increased its pervasiveness, and “free time” has become more and more a “shadowy continuation of labour [sic],” a complex space of economically productive “pseudo-activities.” In hypercapitalism, economically “productive” activities can now consume the entire waking life of people. (p. 136).

‘Exchange value’ vs. ‘use value’

So, they’ve got us right about where they want us. Everything we do is “economically productive,” though probably not for us. We’re consuming things, whether concrete or abstract, and things are commodities, meaning we have to exchange something of economic value for them: money or its equivalent. Or as Pink Floyd bassist Roger Water (1973) puts it in “Money“:

Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay
And you’re O.K.

Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands
And make a stash

New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team

Money get back
I’m all right Jack
Keep your hands off my stack (Waters, 1973)

Graham (2000) discusses Karl Marx’s views of production and consumption, especially Marx’s concept that a commodity has an “exchange value” – what the commodity is worth in the marketplace – that is separate from its “use value” – what the commodity can be used for. If everything is a commodity, its usefulness is mediated by its marketplace value. “And that is what has happened: hypercapitalist production processes have commodified and industrialized almost every conceivable aspect of human social life, including life, birth, death, sex and thought” (p. 138).

Poster for the 1975 film, "Jaws."

It’s apt that I’m writing this on Halloween, because I find this scarier than all the fear generated by “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Jaws,” “Poltergeist,” and “Alien.” I’m much more afraid of the consequences of the commodification of everything than I am of a demonically possessed great white shark invading a haunted suburban development along with its sidekick, an unearthly reptilian with rows of razor-sharp teeth embedded in an extendable jaw.

Access to privileged knowledge

While new media have shaken up the existing order of things throughout history, today’s new media allow knowledge commodities to be produced, consumed, distributed, and exchanged almost instantaneously on a global scale, according to Graham (2000). And, just as in times past, this doesn’t herald the advent of an egalitarian Utopia, where knowledge and information is available to all. “The logic of a system historically based on more and less valuable and valid knowledges presupposes an intrinsic assumption of inequality between social contexts of knowledge production, and so between individual persons: it presupposes an economy of access to privileged knowledge” (p. 149).

According to Graham (2000), the illusion of value trumps utility: what is important is what something is worth in the marketplace, not whether it has any usefulness. “The role of value has become inverted, and social utility now appears to be mediated by a mute, brutal and illusory value system which is increasingly alienated from its source” (p. 152). This explains much about our society, from the obsession with Paris Hilton and other vapid celebrities who are famous for being famous, to the popularity of Fox News, with its hyperventilating commentators who market fear to build ratings.

In Crick’s (2009) poorly copy-edited article – it was obvious that it was spell-checked but there were too many typos for someone to have read it carefully for errors – he argues that we have to move beyond “corporate liberalism” in our discussion of how news will be produced and delivered in a way that will support democracy in this new media age. He cites Thomas Streeter’s definition of corporate liberalism as “the belief that democracy thrives in an unregulated sphere of ‘business entrepreneurialism’ guided by ‘a safely liberal vision of private profit-oriented individuals in an open, competitive marketplace’” (p. 482).

Lippman vs. Dewey

Crick (2009) frames his argument by analyzing a philosophical debate between journalist and political commentator Walter Lippmann and philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey that occurred in the 1920s, in the aftermath of World War I. Lippmann thought the war showed the limits of a democracy based upon the idea that citizens should be knowledgeable and informed about issues and leaders so that they can make rational decisions about public policy. Lippmann thought modern capitalist society was too complicated for that to work. Dewey thought it still was possible, with the aid of some publicly funded agencies of “social inquiry” (p. 494).

Crick applies the perspectives of the two men to today’s Internet, especially the blogosphere, concluding that – surprise! – freedom to communicate may be a “core democratic principle” but you need more to ensure democracy in today’s complex world. “[T]he blogosphere itself cannot provide answers to our problems. It is a tool only” (p. 495). Crick concludes that neither Dewey nor Lippmann gives us a blueprint for action, but they help us think outside the box, so to speak.

The financial theme also runs through the three other articles by Fisher (2009), Gahran (2010), and Moore (2010). Fisher outlines how converged newsrooms are likely to be more successful if they are organized in a way that supports convergence, and if managers receive training in how to run a converged newsroom. Good advice, but not likely to happen on a large scale. In my experience, even back in the good old days when newspapers’ profit margins topped 20 percent, newspaper management didn’t put much money into training. Now that newspapers are losing money and staffs are smaller, I just can’t see media companies hiring and training more managers. Gahran discusses how to structure stories by adding dates and links so that they have more value.

Moore talks about how pay walls – offering specific news or information for a price – aren’t productive in the long run. Instead, he describes how some news organizations are embedding information in their articles that allows them to track the articles as they spin around the Internet. Intriguing, but I don’t really see how it translates into money for publishers.

So, does money make the world go around? Or is it just a nice thing to have, as The Barenaked Ladies contend?

References

Crick, N. (2009). The Search for a Purveyor of News: The Dewey/Lippmann Debate in an Internet Age. [Article]. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26(5), 480-497. doi: 10.1080/15295030903325321

Fisher, H. (2009). Developing media managers for convergence: A study of management theory and practice for managers of converged newsrooms. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 135-150. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gahran, A. (2010, August 19). Structure news: Make useful connections to build your news business [Web blog post].Retrieved from: http://www.knightdigitalmediacenter.org/leadership_blog/comments/20100819_structured_news_make_useful_connections_to_build_your_news_busines/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+KnightDigitalMediaCenter+Knight+Digital+Media+Center&utm_content=Google+Reader#When:22:32:34Z

Graham, P. (2000). Hypercapitalism: A political economy of informational idealism. New Media & Society, 2(2), 131.

Kander, J. [Composer] & Ebb, F. [Lyricist]. (1966). The money song. [Recorded by J. Grey & L. Minelli]. On Cabaret. New York: ABC Records.

Moore, M. (2010, August 18). Media shift: How metadata can eliminate the need for pay walls [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2010/08/how-metadata-can-eliminate-the-need-for-pay-walls230.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+pbs/mediashift-blog+(mediashift-blog)&utm_content=Google+Reader

Page, S. & Robertson, E. (1993). If I had a million dollars. [Recorded by The Barenaked Ladies]. On Gordon [Record]. New York: Reprise Records.

Waters, R. (1973). Money. [Recorded by Pink Floyd]. On The Dark Side of the Moon [Record]. London: Abbey Road Studios.

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New Media: It’s the Technology, Stupid. . . . Or Is It?

This whole new media thing is quite paradoxical. New technology – the Internet, social media, chat rooms, texting, blogs, Twitter, etc. – created the “new media,” but has it given birth to new ways for humans to communicate? That is the question, and it has yet to be answered, according to this week’s readings in “New Media: Theories and Applications.”

As Silverstone (1999) aptly puts it, “It is easy to be seduced by the simplicity and significance of novelty. . . . The new is no simple matter” (p. 10). We can get carried away by our ability to instantly communicate with someone on the other side of the world, or to chronicle our daily life by sending out cryptic messages on Twitter. Until just a few years ago, no one could do these things; 20 years ago, no one even imagined them.

So the technology is and continues to be revolutionary. No doubt even more incredible high-tech communication gadgets will be invented in the next five years. However, a revolution in technology does not necessarily translate into a revolution in how people communicate.

. . . (N)ew technologies do have a bearing on the circumstantial parameters under which human interaction occurs and do afford previously rare opportunities but . . . these technologies do not fundamentally alter human needs and desires, per se, and thus do not make existing theories of behavior obsolete. (Yser & Southwell, 2008, p. 9)

The authors make the point that, in 1948, communication theorists were pondering the possible consequences of the new media of the day: television, FM radio, and the facsimile machine (p. 8).

Theory provides context

Bardzell (n.d.) contends that theory provides the context needed to evaluate new media. Studying theories of new media “exponentially increase our experience of media, even if only vicariously” (p. 3). He claims that new media theory enables designers to create visionary new works.

Without a theoretical framework, new media will remain derivative. And new media designers will be unable to produce transformative works. Theory also provides the common language needed to analyze new media objects and allows designers to predict the effect these objects will have on the humans who use them (p. 7, 9).

Bardzell’s thesis about the importance of theory to new media seems reasonable to me. Theory provides the context; without it, you have a random constellation of ideas about new media that defy assessment. His argument for the centrality of theory to new media is applicable to other subjects. Every academic discipline must have a theoretical dimension. But he doesn’t stop there; he outlines how to analyze a theory: comprehend it, apply it, and critique it. I’ve used that approach to analyze the other required readings this week, and it seems to work pretty well.

Silverstone cautions that new technologies do not exist in a vacuum; they are affected by the cultural paradigms and imperatives of their age (1999, p. 12). The United States is a capitalist society, which means its values are economically based: everything has a price and a cost. New media are not evaluated based on how they might benefit or harm society or the individual. Rather, the question is how they can be harnessed or altered to make money for their creators.

Question of access

And who will have access to the new media? Silverstone says technology and society are not necessarily in sync:

. . .(O)ur preoccupation with the necessary interweaving of technology and capital has arguably blinded us to the significance of investment in human capital, to the realization that technology is as much if not more about skills and competence, literacy and access, as it is about investment and interfaces. (1999, p.12)

Yzer and Southwell (2008) argue that new communication technologies – the phrase they use instead of “new media” – are “a source of contextual influence on communication processes” (p. 15). The new media enable or discourage relationships rather than changing how humans communicate. Thus old patterns of communication behavior persist regardless of how new the technology is. It’s the context of the human interaction that changes depending on the technology used. Thus we need to study how and when these contexts arise (p. 16).

This makes sense to me, as technology is a lot easier to change than human behavior. Though anecdotally, it seems one behavior is changing: many people are paying more attention to computer-mediated communication (CMC) than to face-to-face interaction.

They talk and text on their cell phones while also conducting a face-to-face interaction with someone else. The immediacy and mystery of the electronic communication trumps the interpersonal exchange with the three-dimensional, living, breathing person in front of them. This may seem a trivial change, but it could be interpreted as a devaluation of face-to-face communication and thus a devaluation of the face-to-face communicator.

Blurred boundaries

Lievrouw (2009) persuasively makes the case that new media and information technologies have blurred the distinction between interpersonal communication and media communication.

She outlines three “moments” in communication theory and research: two-step flow, the crisis of new media, and the cultural turn, from media to mediation (p. 312). Two-step flow is important because it places “interpersonal interaction at the center of media influence and persuasion, effectively turning the notion of mass communication on its head” (p. 314-315). For mass communication to happen, people must intervene – with interactions and conversations – between the source of the message and its target.

Then the second moment, “the crisis of new media,” encourages “a shift from a relatively simple focus on media channels to a focus on communicative action in the context of networked relations and systems” (p. 315) says Lievrouw. Finally, mediation encompasses “both the technological means or forms of expression, and the interpersonal processes of moderation, negotiation, and intervention” (p. 317).

She constructs a compelling case for defining communication “as a seamless and continually negotiated web of  meaning, practices, tools, resources, and relations” (p. 317). The technology and the interpersonal processes are intertwined; they can’t be separated.

References

Bardzell, J. (n.d.). New media theory primer. Retrievedfrom http:www.allectomedia.com/blog/

Lievrouw, L. (2009, April). New media, mediation, and communication study. Information, Communication & Society, 12, 303-325.

Silverstone, R. (1999, April). What’s new about new media? New Media & Society, 1, 10-12.

Yzer, M.C. (2008, September). New communication technologies, old questions. American Behavioral Scientist, 52, 8-20.