Value for value

Note: This post is a Thought experiment, updated 6 August 2022. I am reducing the font of one section, which, to be fair, was what prompted this post in the first place.

Bernard Stiegler wrote a lot about entropic features of the Anthropocene. He observed that as relations between labor and time continue to change, labor is increasingly relegated to automatization and human knowledge itself is “transfered to machines or automatons”. In the industrial capitalism of the Anthropocene, we are faced with “the radical negativity brought about by this situation, and insofar as it concerns each of us with respect to our responsibility and our ability to respond”. Stiegler’s response was to propose the “contributive economy” — in which everyone can be a contributor, emitting their own symbols. In his economy of contribution, people are so much more than consumers.

The contributive economy reconsiders the relation between the human and the machine and restores the knowledge lost to the industrial, then the technological, machine. The knowledge that we have lost includes even social knowledge, which was usurped by the proscription of brands. Those brands market the products industrialization made it possible to produce. . .

In the economy of contribution, productive activities are remunerated in such a way as to support transindividuation: allowing us to help each other actively realize ourselves through collective action.

Stiegler discusses these ideas in an interview translated by Kinsley, which makes a good introduction to the subject. He put his ideas into practice in three communes of Plaine Commune — and was very serious about the urgency of the need to restructure how we live if we are to put out the dumpster fire of the Anthropocene.

It should perhaps be stressed that the contributive economy benefits the market as well as people. The official defninition, coined by the activist think tank he co-founded, Ars Industrialis, is in French here. It is translated into English here by Sam Kinsley.

In my LibrePlanet2022 talk, I suggested, drawing on Stiegler, that participating in the free software community is one way to realize a contributive economy.

I wonder if another way is through the collection of initiatives known as Podcasting 2.0. An introductory resource about its technical aspects is this github page. I should note that I only really took notice of Podcasting 2.0 when I heard Chris Fisher on Coder Radio give his take on it. I think it was episode 464 that gave me pause to think — I definitely committed that episode number to memory because there were multiple thought-provking points made about the tech/capital crossover. Chris also discusses the topic in more detail on the Office Hours podcast, which I haven’t listened to yet.

One of Podcasting 2.0’s initiatives is potentially controversial because listeners can send podcast hosts small amounts of Bitcoin every minute if they are listening via certain podcast apps. Other potential areas of controversy could include how it has been promoted by figures that ruffle feathers, how promoters are bullish on features not everyone agrees on, environmentalism, or the “2.0” label, which could be considered a loaded term.

The technical solutions involved are interesting. Bitcoin can be sent by “using the experimental <podcast:value> tag in your podcast feed”, which is supported by a variety of apps. This form of monetization is known as value for value.

But in Chris’s take, this value can also be returned to podcast makers in other ways, such as through information sharing or writing content that directs new listeners to the podcasts. He was far more eloquent about these values than I am being here. Sadly Coder Radio has no public-facing transcripts for me to quote — but in Podcasting 2.0, transcripts can be served together with the podcast itself.

Feeds can be further enhanced by rich content like images and even video. To my mind, this means the possibility of additional employment: creating opportunities for visual artists to also be contributors to podcasts.

It was Chris’s take on what “value for value” means that prompted me to see podcasting 2.0 as a form of contributive economy.

But of course, the idea will only work if people change their habits and use and implement it. Is it too much to access the podcasts we listen to by using a new app to access it? Would the gains far outweigh any resistance or reservations, like environmental impact?

It is definitely worth thinking about valuing values that are meaningful to us through how we are interacting with digital technology. What are sustainable ways in which we can support each other’s work, even if this involves “extra” work in cultivating the environment around us for it to become like a garden we can enjoy together?

By way of conclusion, I will end with an excerpt from Kinsley’s translation of the Ars Industrialis definition of the contributive economy:

The hyperconsumerist essence of the concept of the creative economy . . . must be surpassed by societies and territories of contribution based on collaborative cultural technologies. If the Internet makes possible an apparently contributory economy – typified by free and open source software – it is because it is a technical environment in which the recipients are put in the position of senders: it is dialogical. The Web (2.0 or 3.0) therefore contributes to an economy of contribution as it is:
  1. an infrastructure: systems for sharing and publishing knowledge online (such as: CMS, wikis);
  2. mechanisms for desire: in the classical industrial system, consumption drives desire – which, however, deteriorates and decays tendentiously and inevitably into drives – while in the case of Web 2.0, desire operates around personal creativity and work shared in online spaces (YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, Wikis in general);
  3. digital technology which empowers and enables the development of the economic model (in the same way that the tourism boom was made possible by advances in transportation technology, web technologies allow the appropriation of read / write content).

But the rapid success of the internet will only be a truly economic success (in both senses of the term) if it makes itself the subject of a public industrial policy, moving beyond the spectacular dynamics of new industrial enterprises emerging in this contributory milieu, currently dominated by search engines and social networks.

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