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193

"Free Lunch" in the Digital Era: Organization Is the New Content

3
terms
7
notes

Andrejevic, M. (2014). "Free Lunch" in the Digital Era: Organization Is the New Content. In McGuigan, L. and Manzerolle, V. (eds) The Audience Commodity in a Digital Age: Revisiting a Critical Theory of Commercial Media. Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers, pp. 193-206

194

Recent work updating the notion of the audience commodity and of audience labor for the digital era has focused on the changing character of what is sold to advertisers: no longer time or space, but user activity or key words or searches [...] These analyses are useful insofar as they highlight the shifting logics of advertising in an era in which "flow" (Williams 1974) is displaced by search, and space is virtually unlimited. Clearly traces of earlier logics of advertising remain: inserting ads in front of YouTube videos recapitulates the logic of the sale of time [...] However, the digital medium is a much more malleable and thus customizable medium--which means that spaces and times can be more narrowly framed and targeted (that is, a particular space can show one ad to one user and a different ad to another user on the same page). Moreover, online ads generate their own feedback--creating additional data that can be folded back into the process of customization. The upshot is that emerging advertising regimes are becoming ever more data-intensive [...]

—p.194 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago

Recent work updating the notion of the audience commodity and of audience labor for the digital era has focused on the changing character of what is sold to advertisers: no longer time or space, but user activity or key words or searches [...] These analyses are useful insofar as they highlight the shifting logics of advertising in an era in which "flow" (Williams 1974) is displaced by search, and space is virtually unlimited. Clearly traces of earlier logics of advertising remain: inserting ads in front of YouTube videos recapitulates the logic of the sale of time [...] However, the digital medium is a much more malleable and thus customizable medium--which means that spaces and times can be more narrowly framed and targeted (that is, a particular space can show one ad to one user and a different ad to another user on the same page). Moreover, online ads generate their own feedback--creating additional data that can be folded back into the process of customization. The upshot is that emerging advertising regimes are becoming ever more data-intensive [...]

—p.194 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago
195

[...] The work that audiences do, according to Smythe, "is to learn to buy particular 'brands' of consumer demands, and to spend their income accordingly. In short, they work to create demand for advertised goods" (1977, 6). The fact that not all viewers see the ads or respond in anticipated fashion is taken into consideration by Smythe's argument, which considers the overall transformations associated with the rise of consumer society at the aggregate rather than the individual level. Whether or not a particular user responds in a particular way is largely immaterial with respect to the substance of his claims--not last because this diversity is also factored into marketing calculations. What matters is that the rise of a consumer society would have been impossible without a pervasive and powerful advertising industry. As Smythe's analysis in Dependency Road suggests, viewers of advertising "work" at becoming trained consumers--at embracing a consumer-oriented lifestyle, the values that go along with it, and the vocabulary of images and associations upon which it builds. The media industries are not the sole participants in the creation of the audience commodity and its productivity from the perspective of capitalism; they are assisted in this endeavour by the range of social institutions that produce and reproduce consumption-driven lifestyles, including the school system, family, and peer groups.

about aggregate rather than individuals - FB/Goog publisher stats are reported that way anyway, reinforcing this narrative

—p.195 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago

[...] The work that audiences do, according to Smythe, "is to learn to buy particular 'brands' of consumer demands, and to spend their income accordingly. In short, they work to create demand for advertised goods" (1977, 6). The fact that not all viewers see the ads or respond in anticipated fashion is taken into consideration by Smythe's argument, which considers the overall transformations associated with the rise of consumer society at the aggregate rather than the individual level. Whether or not a particular user responds in a particular way is largely immaterial with respect to the substance of his claims--not last because this diversity is also factored into marketing calculations. What matters is that the rise of a consumer society would have been impossible without a pervasive and powerful advertising industry. As Smythe's analysis in Dependency Road suggests, viewers of advertising "work" at becoming trained consumers--at embracing a consumer-oriented lifestyle, the values that go along with it, and the vocabulary of images and associations upon which it builds. The media industries are not the sole participants in the creation of the audience commodity and its productivity from the perspective of capitalism; they are assisted in this endeavour by the range of social institutions that produce and reproduce consumption-driven lifestyles, including the school system, family, and peer groups.

about aggregate rather than individuals - FB/Goog publisher stats are reported that way anyway, reinforcing this narrative

—p.195 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago

(linguistics) the omission of a sound or syllable when speaking OR the act or an instance of omitting something

197

Too often the distinction is elided between a simplistic notion of direct effects [...] and a more nuanced understanding of the relationship

—p.197 by Mark Andrejevic
notable
1 year, 1 month ago

Too often the distinction is elided between a simplistic notion of direct effects [...] and a more nuanced understanding of the relationship

—p.197 by Mark Andrejevic
notable
1 year, 1 month ago

when a word or phrase has multiple meanings (from Greek)

197

an implicit dismissal of the significance of advertising content in favour of polysemic texts

—p.197 by Mark Andrejevic
notable
1 year, 1 month ago

an implicit dismissal of the significance of advertising content in favour of polysemic texts

—p.197 by Mark Andrejevic
notable
1 year, 1 month ago
200

The question then posed for a critical analysis of the political economy of new media is somewhat different than that outlined by Smythe. If the new "free lunch" is information organization, search, and retrieval (in addition to content), how are these influenced by the commercial imperatives that structure for-profit media industries? If the "free lunch" is always subordinated to the characteristics of the formal advertisements, what happens when the character of this free lunch shifts from content to information organization? The outlines of such a contemporary critique would include an interrogation of the ways i which the organizational schemes themselves reflect the overwhelming tendency of the "free lunch" to "reaffirm the status quo and retard change" (Smythe 1981, 39). This line of critique strikes me as a crucial one--the extension of the concerns of the critical political economy of the mass media into the digital realm. The role of organization is, in a sense, to impose a new form of scarcity upon the information glut of the Internet age. If, once upon a time, mass mediation imposed scarcity through the limitations of content and distribution, in the digital era, it imposes scarcity through the activity of organizing access to information--that is, determining which content will be prioritized for which users. [...]

—p.200 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago

The question then posed for a critical analysis of the political economy of new media is somewhat different than that outlined by Smythe. If the new "free lunch" is information organization, search, and retrieval (in addition to content), how are these influenced by the commercial imperatives that structure for-profit media industries? If the "free lunch" is always subordinated to the characteristics of the formal advertisements, what happens when the character of this free lunch shifts from content to information organization? The outlines of such a contemporary critique would include an interrogation of the ways i which the organizational schemes themselves reflect the overwhelming tendency of the "free lunch" to "reaffirm the status quo and retard change" (Smythe 1981, 39). This line of critique strikes me as a crucial one--the extension of the concerns of the critical political economy of the mass media into the digital realm. The role of organization is, in a sense, to impose a new form of scarcity upon the information glut of the Internet age. If, once upon a time, mass mediation imposed scarcity through the limitations of content and distribution, in the digital era, it imposes scarcity through the activity of organizing access to information--that is, determining which content will be prioritized for which users. [...]

—p.200 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago

(noun) a change or variation occurring in the course of something; successive, alternating, or changing phases or conditions, as of life or fortune; ups and downs

202

protected from the vicissitudes of Google's own economic fortunes

—p.202 by Mark Andrejevic
notable
1 year, 1 month ago

protected from the vicissitudes of Google's own economic fortunes

—p.202 by Mark Andrejevic
notable
1 year, 1 month ago
203

[...] This is not to blame the university, which had to make the best use of its scarce resources, but rather to point out the structural pressures that make such a decision seem optimal. It is also to anticipate the hazards of the failure to consider the relationship between the "free lunch" offered by Google (in terms of both organization and content--albeit content provided by someone else) and the commercial imperatives of a company that is, for all intents and purposes, an advertising company. [...]

on a uni relying on google to digitise the archive. this framing offers a useful way of thinking about comparable situations

—p.203 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago

[...] This is not to blame the university, which had to make the best use of its scarce resources, but rather to point out the structural pressures that make such a decision seem optimal. It is also to anticipate the hazards of the failure to consider the relationship between the "free lunch" offered by Google (in terms of both organization and content--albeit content provided by someone else) and the commercial imperatives of a company that is, for all intents and purposes, an advertising company. [...]

on a uni relying on google to digitise the archive. this framing offers a useful way of thinking about comparable situations

—p.203 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago
203

It is precisely because these companies are not content providers themselves that they can be portrayed as post-ideological. Smythe's critique remains germane because it enjoins us to consider the production regimes that structure the relations between the affordances of the platform or application and the process whereby free access is valorized. The importance of such an approach is that it further invites us to think through the relations between the reliance on advertising, the collection of personal information, and the customization of the information environment: to see these as dialectically linked in an economically productive fashion. Google does not produce goods or services for sale in a conventional sense (it even offloads the creation of the ads it serves onto ad purchases)--the only product it produces for sale is the audience for its various advertising products. [...]

framing inspo

—p.203 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago

It is precisely because these companies are not content providers themselves that they can be portrayed as post-ideological. Smythe's critique remains germane because it enjoins us to consider the production regimes that structure the relations between the affordances of the platform or application and the process whereby free access is valorized. The importance of such an approach is that it further invites us to think through the relations between the reliance on advertising, the collection of personal information, and the customization of the information environment: to see these as dialectically linked in an economically productive fashion. Google does not produce goods or services for sale in a conventional sense (it even offloads the creation of the ads it serves onto ad purchases)--the only product it produces for sale is the audience for its various advertising products. [...]

framing inspo

—p.203 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago
204

The fetishization of content underwrites the fantasy that it is somehow detachable from the infrastructure that supports it. The thrust of Smythe's argument is to dismantle this fantasy, a task which remains a pressing one on the digital era in which, we are told, everyone (or at least a lot more people than before) can create their own content--but not, significantly the structures for organizing, sorting, and retrieving it. We can make our own Web page, but not our own Google; we can craft our own Tweets, but not our own Twitter (at least not without a fair amount of expertise and venture capital). By focusing on practices seemingly associated with the superstructural realm of cultural consumption, Smythe nonetheless reminds us of the importance of control and ownership over productive resources, including the means of information sharing, organization, and retrieval. Even in the digital era, matter still matters--especially the expensive kind, such as network infrastructure, data storage facilities and processing power.

connects with Jason's thing about why open source can build git but not github

—p.204 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago

The fetishization of content underwrites the fantasy that it is somehow detachable from the infrastructure that supports it. The thrust of Smythe's argument is to dismantle this fantasy, a task which remains a pressing one on the digital era in which, we are told, everyone (or at least a lot more people than before) can create their own content--but not, significantly the structures for organizing, sorting, and retrieving it. We can make our own Web page, but not our own Google; we can craft our own Tweets, but not our own Twitter (at least not without a fair amount of expertise and venture capital). By focusing on practices seemingly associated with the superstructural realm of cultural consumption, Smythe nonetheless reminds us of the importance of control and ownership over productive resources, including the means of information sharing, organization, and retrieval. Even in the digital era, matter still matters--especially the expensive kind, such as network infrastructure, data storage facilities and processing power.

connects with Jason's thing about why open source can build git but not github

—p.204 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago
206

[...] Borrowing John Durham Peters' (2009) formulation, we might describe the success of new media companies like Twitter, Google and Amazon.com in terms of the rise of "logistical media." In historical terms, such media include those seemingly content-free media that organize time and space [...] Against the background of the proliferation of data and information, the organizational function becomes increasingly challenging, resource-intensive, and indispensable. As Peters puts it, Google's "power owes precisely to its ability to colonize our desktops, indexes, calendars, maps, correspondence, attention, and habits" (2009, 8). In the digital era, the power of data mining lies further in the ability of the algorithm to organize decision making processes based on information provided by others. The scarcity lies not in the information itself, but in the ability to put it to use in new and powerful ways. [...]

I need to actually read JDP at some point

—p.206 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago

[...] Borrowing John Durham Peters' (2009) formulation, we might describe the success of new media companies like Twitter, Google and Amazon.com in terms of the rise of "logistical media." In historical terms, such media include those seemingly content-free media that organize time and space [...] Against the background of the proliferation of data and information, the organizational function becomes increasingly challenging, resource-intensive, and indispensable. As Peters puts it, Google's "power owes precisely to its ability to colonize our desktops, indexes, calendars, maps, correspondence, attention, and habits" (2009, 8). In the digital era, the power of data mining lies further in the ability of the algorithm to organize decision making processes based on information provided by others. The scarcity lies not in the information itself, but in the ability to put it to use in new and powerful ways. [...]

I need to actually read JDP at some point

—p.206 by Mark Andrejevic 1 year, 1 month ago