Andreas Wittel is a senior lecturer at the School of Arts and Humanities, Nottingham Trent University. He is interested in the political economy of digital media and technologies, in the intersection of capitalism and the internet, and in the search for alternatives to capital. How can we rebuild the commons? How can we leave behind the tyranny of measurement and quantification?
The Economy of Contribution in the Digital Commons
This is a paper about digital production and the crisis of capitalism. It is about production in the digital commons and its implications for the building of alternatives to a commodified world. As digital production is at the very heart of cognitive capitalism, the digital commons is not just any other disruption of the process of commodification. This is the field of a fierce struggle over the future of the Internet and the future of capitalism itself. It is potentially the moment which moves back the frontiers of measurement, value and quantification towards qualities, values and an expansion of the gift economy. For this potential to unfold, it is vital that those who are giving, sharing, and contributing for the benefit of humanity are supported by global policies that enable them to do so. They have to be supported because their gifts are not based on reciprocity and the obligation to return the gift. This is an argument in three parts: The first part explores the devastating impacts of digital technologies on wage labor in neoliberal economies. The second part inspects labor in the digital commons and its very specific economy of contribution. The third part is about policy in relation to labor in the digital commons. One of the most promising ways to support those who contribute with their labor to the building of the digital commons, the paper concludes, is a global basic income scheme.