Stefan Heidenreich is a writer, theoretician and art-critic, lives and works in Berlin. He currently holds a research position at the Center for Digital Cultures at the University of Lüneburg, and is occasionally teaching at the Institute of Media Studies, Basel University. Fields of research include network and media theory, economy, and art.
Relationality, Spimes and Network-Value
Data differ from things: they are not scarce. If at all, their point of scarcity lies in the human attention. That’s why we have all the talk about the over-abundance of information and an economy of attention. They’re symptoms of an ongoing transition. During this transition, the digital economy is being modeled according to the economy of things - by introducing artificial scarcity plus dismissing technically appropriate usage as illegal, and by wrapping things in layers of data, like ‘spimes’ (Sterling) and the idea of ‘sharing’.
Once the transition is done, things will be data. Abundance of most objects will be taken as default. The strong notion of property related to scarcity may fade away. Functional resources and tools of all kinds will become common goods.
This transition will also affect our idea of work. For now, labor is conceived along the principles of the factory and the production of scarce goods, from leftist (education / internet as factory) as much as from neo-liberal positions. Future work will be wrapped in layers of data. It may have little to do with scarcity but more with relational activities. Relational as in linking to others and being assigned a value by others. For now, the economy of the web lingers in a parasitic stage, depending on material goods and their distribution. The coming relationalities may derive value from links, similar to Google’s relevance ranking or similar to the Like-Economy of Social
When it comes to work and to workers, the turn may lead either to a dark or to a bright scenario. We may finally leave repressive markets and artificial scarcity behind and arrive at the pre-Marxist phantasy “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need “. Unfortunately, the dark future remains more likely: an impoverished workforce in a subsistence economy, with a network layer that just allows for ‘sharing’ the minimum.