Posts Tagged ‘ prosumption ’

Will the IPO Change the Way Users See Facebook?

Tomorrow’s initial public offering of Facebook stock has both business and tech commentators chattering away (though, in most mainstream publications, there isn’t meaningful distinction between the two). Technology coverage is too often reduced to the business of technology. Consider the top four tech headlines on the New York Times site today: “Long Odds on a Big Facebook Payday,” “Ahead of Facebook I.P.O., a Skeptical Madison Ave.,” “Spotify Deal Would Value Company at $4 Billion, “Pinterest Raises $100 Million.”

Buried in the all the personal investing advice, some interesting quesitons are being raised. For example: How can a company with few employees and so little material infrastructure generate so much value? What is it that Facebook actually produces? Is an economy based in immaterial products and services sustainable (especially given that it’s profitability is largely dependent on it’s ability to drive additional consumption in other sectors through advertising)?

But there are also a lot of questions that aren’t being asked—the kinds of culturally significant questions that business folks and economists aren’t (though perhaps should be) interested in. Here, I want ask one such question: Will Facebook’s transition to a public corporation change the way users perceive their participation on the site? While I can only speculate about how this institutional change will effect users, I want offer a few reasons I think Facebook’s IPO may cause users to see themselves in more of an explicit work-like relationship with Facebook (based on rationalistic principles of minimizing cost and maximizing gain) and less a part of some sort of non-rationalized gift economy (based on principles of sharing and reciprocity). I should be clear, here, that I am talking about users’ relationship to the platform, not their relationships with each other. Users are, of course, primarily motivated to use the platform because of their relationships with other users; however, as recent privacy debates have illustrated, a user’s perceptions of Facebook are important in determining how users use the platform and whether they use it at all. Continue reading

Alienation, Exploitation & Social Media

I just published a piece in a special issue of American Behavioral Scientist on the topic of Prosumption and the Prosumer. The article will likely be of interest to many of Cyborgology blog readers. In it, I consider the applicability of Marx’s two main critiques of capitalism—alienation and exploitation—to social media. Though Marx was describing the materialist paradigm of factory production, it is useful to see how far these concepts can be stretched to account for the immaterial paradigm of digital prosumption, because, even if we observe weaknesses in how the concepts graft on to social media, these observations become a starting point for new kinds of theorizing.

Additionally, I found it important to try to bring alienation into the conversation surrounding social media. Thus far, most Marxian analysis has focused solely on exploitation (many hyperbolically claiming that we have entered an era of hyper- or over-exploitation). I argue that exploitation has remained a constant between material and immaterial modes of production and that what is most remarkable is the fact that productivity occurs on social media with so little alienation.

You can access the article on the publisher’s site or as a .pdf here.

PJ Rey (@pjrey) is a sociologist at the University of Maryland working to describe how social media and other technology reflect and change our culture and the economy.

Panel Discussion: Is Facebook Use a Form of Labor?

The Organizations, Occupations, and Work blog (associated with the American Sociological Association) organized an interesting panel discussion between Chris Prener, Christopher Land, Steffen Böehm and myself. I’ll summarize/critique the positions here and provide links for further reading.

Chris Prener initiated the conversation by asking “Is Facebook “Using” Its Members?” Prener claims that, though the company gives users “access to networks of friends and other individuals as well as social organizations and associations,” Facebook—with it’s advertising revenue “somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.2 billion”—” benefits far more in this somewhat symbiotic relationship.” He concludes that Facebook, and social media more broadly, represent “a [new] space where even unpaid, voluntary leisure activities can be exploited for the commercial gain of the entities within which those activities occur.” Continue reading

Facebook is Not a Factory (But Still Exploits its Users)

This piece is posted in cooperation with the Organization, Occupations, and Work Blog.

Facebook’s IPO announcement has stirred much debate over the question of whether Facebook is exploiting/using/taking advantage of its users. The main problem with the recent discussion of this subject is that no one really seems to have taken the time to actually define what exploitation is. Let me start by reviewing this concept before proceeding to examine its relevance to Facebook.

Defining exploitation. The concept of exploitation came to prominence about a century and a half ago through the writings of Karl Marx, and he gave it a specific, objectively calculable definition—though, I’ll spare you the mathematical expressions. Marx starts from the assumption that value is created though labor (most people today acknowledge that value is contingent on other factors as well, but we need merely to accept that labor is one source of value for Marx’s argument to work). According to Marx, humans have an important natural relationship to the fruits of our labor, and our work is a definitive part of who we are. Modern capitalist society is unique from other periods in history because workers sell their labor time in exchange for wages (as opposed to, say, creating objects and bartering them for other objects). Capitalists accumulate money by skimming off some of the value created by worker’s labor and, so that the wages a worker receives is only a fraction of the total value he or she has created. The portion of the value created by a worker that is not returned back to that worker (after operating costs are covered) is called the rate of exploitation. Continue reading

Incidental Productivity: Value and Social Media

For nearly two centuries, the term “production” has conjured an image of a worker physically laboring in the factory. Arguably, this image has been supplanted, in recent decades, by office worker typing away on a keyboard; however, both images share certain commonalities. Office work and factory work are both conspicuous—i.e., the worker sees what she is making, be it a physical object or a document. Office work and factory work are also active—i.e., they require the workers’ energy and attention and come at the expense of other possible activities.

The nature of production has undergone a radical change in a ballooning sector of the economy. The paradigmatic images of active workers producing conspicuous objects in the factory and the office have been replaced by the image of Facebook users, leisurely interacting with one another. But before we delve into this new form of productivity we must take a moment to define production itself.

Following Marx, we can say that any activity that results in the creation of value is production of one sort or another. Labor is a form of production specific to humans because human are capable of imagination and intentionality. Continue reading

What Do Burning Man and Facebook Have in Common…?

Photo: PJ Rey

(Co-authored with David Banks)

A discussion of Burning Man may, at first, seem out of place on a technology blog; however, as sociologist Fred Turner has previously observed, the ideology of Burner culture is profoundly co-implicated with the prevailing ideology of Web. It is more than mere coincidence that this particular festival has exploded in proximity to Silicon Valley. It is also more than coincidence that Google and other tech company virtually shut down during this event. The week-long temporary city in a desert attracts people from around the world. The community is founded upon the (seemingly paradoxical) principals of “radical self-reliance” and “communal effort.” For a week, Burners collectively construct a festive atmosphere that separates themselves from the institutions and customs of their everyday lives. There is a vibrant gift economy with a focus on the decommodification of goods and services (though, of course, like the Internet, much money changes hands behind the scenes: for infrastructure, transport, illicit ticket sales, drugs, etc.). Everyone is encouraged to participate in all aspects of the community (to “prosume” their surroundings), and in doing so, to reach a better understanding of self. This is all embodied in the Ten Principles of Burning Man. Continue reading

Where’s the Money in Prosumption: Predictions for 2010

(Reposted from Sociology Lens)

A recent article in the New York Times, “Experts Predict 2010 the Year for Social Media ROI” summarizes a Trendspotting.com report entitled “TrendsSpotting’s 2010 Social Media Influencers – Trend Predictions in 140 Characters.” The Trendspotting.com post identifies six trends to look out for in social media over the coming year: “Mobile, Location, Transparency, Measurement, ROI, [and] Privacy.” The Times article focuses, particularly, on return on investment. The articles reports three strategies for garnering profit from user-generated content (i.e., prospecting, stewardship, and advocacy) but fails to provide much analysis. Viewing the proliferation of user-generated content from a sociological perspective, I’d like to consider the prospects for these three strategies.

Continue reading

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