Mediation Is the Message: Social Media Ventures in Informational Capitalism

Mediation Is the Message: Social Media Ventures in Informational Capitalism

Marco Briziarelli (University of New Mexico, USA) and Joseph Flores (University of New Mexico, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4197-4.ch018
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Abstract

In this chapter, the authors explore the deep level of ambiguities that characterizes the relationship between social media and capitalism, and the social, political economic context in which in several regions of world they operate. This reflection is provided in a particular moment of history in which media may have become at the same time the main “language” in order to decipher contemporary economics as well as the material terrain in which those economic activities develop. Yet, while social media seems to have been more and more integrated within the logic of capitalism, and capitalism has increasingly assumed the morphology of an informational dispersal, their relationship is not straightforward but defined by a series of deep rooted tensions.
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Introduction

This essay explores the deep level of ambiguities that characterize the relationship between social media and capitalism, the social, political economic context in which in several regions of world they operate. It provides this reflection in a particular moment of history in which media have become at the same time the main “language” in order to decipher contemporary economics as well as the material terrain in which those economic activities develop. Yet, while social media seem to have been more and more integrated within the logic of capitalism, and capitalism, has increasingly assumed the morphology of an informational dispositive, their relationship is not straightforward but defined by a series of deep rooted tensions.

In doing that, as Srniceck observes (2016), we try to move the contextualization of social media from relatively narrow perspective of a media technology sector, to the much wider point of view of a digital economy:

This is an area that cuts across traditional sectors –including manufacturing, services, transportation, mining, and telecommunications –and is in fact becoming essential to much of the economy today. Understood in this way, the digital economy is far more important than a simple sectoral analysis might suggest. In the first place, it appears to be the most dynamic sector of the contemporary economy –an area from which constant innovation is purportedly emerging and that seems to be guiding economic growth forward. The digital economy appears to be a leading light in an otherwise rather stagnant economic context. Secondly, digital technology is becoming systematically important, much in the same way as finance. As the digital economy is an increasingly pervasive infrastructure for the contemporary economy, its collapse would be economically devastating. Lastly, because of its dynamism, the digital economy is presented as an ideal that can legitimate contemporary capitalism more broadly. The digital economy is becoming a hegemonic model: cities are to become smart, businesses must be disruptive, workers are to become flexible, and governments must be lean and intelligent (pp. 157-58)

Through this wide lens, we claim in fact that those tensions illustrate a long-lasting relationship between our societies and the way we understood the practical and normative role of media technologies. For instance, Mosco (2005) claims that every new wave of media technology seems to bring with it contradictory declarations of ultimate ends, a mixture of messianic and apocalyptic predictions of future, a telos that simultaneously implies modernity and anti-modernity. The radio for instance could connect distant communities, thus enhancing a common understanding of the world, but could also generate phenomena of mass hysteria. In the specific case of social media platforms, they are simultaneously perceived to be rescuing the public sphere (Habermas, 1991), promoting new sociability (boyd, 2010) while concurrently, deteriorating more genuine forms of communication such as interpersonal and dialogic ones, and facilitating further levels of commodification of previously un-colonized spheres of social life (Terranova, 2004).

Moreover, for Fuchs (2014), an important aspect of this commodification is the consideration of digital prosumption, labour, and the context of the time in capitalism. For Fuchs, the emergence of social media “is an expression of the changes between labour time and leisure time that have been conceptualized with terms such as digital labour, presumption, consumption labour and play labour” (p. 98). For Marx (1885), the circulation time of capital is the time that it takes to buy investment goods, produce commodities, and sell them. As the capitalist economy is driven by the need to accumulate ever more capital, an important aspect of this accumulation derives from the ability to increase productivity, (the production of more in less time), and the lengthening of the working day (Fuchs, 2014).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social media: Internet-based applications that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content through web 2.0 technology.

Technological Utopia: A specific modern ideology assuming that the progress of science and technology will fulfill an ideal society in which human scarcity, sufferance and mortality is overcome.

Technological Dystopia: An association between technology and catastrophic changes and a contaminated humanness that compromises social intercourse.

Labor: A productive activity that tends to be regulated and disciplined by working contracts, as it is exchange for a salary. Compared to work, because is a compelling and a regulated productive activity, labor causes of multiple kinds of alienation that disrupts the moment of genuine creative activity intrinsic in working.

Work: A site where human practical intentions become bound to constructed products that allow people to see and recognize themselves. Because of its creative and expressive nature, work allows people to recognize in the products of working.

Mediation: The conceptualization of different social elements/subjects that come to interact, communicate and exchange information among each other based on the production and reproduction of social relations.

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