Adam Arvidsson on Sat, 29 Mar 2008 21:08:22 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> R: Google INC. vs Wisdomized Clouds

hi some thought on this discussion
adam arvidsson


To my mind google exemplifies a new and emerging form of capital, what I call
ethical capital. The structural characteristic of ethical capital is that it
does not primarily extract surplus value and profits form the control of
salaried labour (although this might also occur to some extent- google does
employ masseuses..), but from its ability to translate the products of a new
emerging 'ethical mode of production' into value assets recognized by the
capitalist economy (attention, intangibles) and monetize them. Ethical capital
is thus a hybrid form of capital which makes a living by translating between
two different modes of production and value forms.  The ethical mode of
production consists in self-organized networks of social production, on and of
line. These range from highly organized forms such as Open-Source programming,
to loosely connected forms like consumers experiencing and co-producing
affective community around a brand. This mode of production is 'ethical'
because value in this 'economy' is primarily contingent on the ability to
produce an ethical surplus (a form of community, a hierarchy of values in the
form of a trend or a life-form) and individuals are values according to their
(charismatic) ability to create such an ethical surplus, the native terms are
reputation and respect. So the ethical 'economy' might produce things (like
open source software) but its most valuable product (to its participating
members) is the ethical surplus that is can generate: the possibility to
experience affective community in a fragmented world, the ability to have a
coherent world view in a time of information overload, etc. 

So ethical capital is a hybrid form of capital. It rests on its ability to
appropriate and monetize an ethical surplus produced in another mode of
production where respect, not money, is the main embodiment of value. Usually
however, ethical capital does not intervene in the actual production of the
ethical surplus. This is where the radical nature of google lies: As John
Hopkins pointed out, google is actually n 'ethical machine': users submit their
affective energies to google and google organizes those affective energies to
produce something that the fragmented users are not able to produce themselves,
an ethical surplus: a structure of values in the form of a page rank, the
ability to say that something is better or more useful than something else. The
experience of order and hierarchy in a situation of information overload
(through the page-rank) is the primary benefit that goggle 'donates' to users
after having first extracted it from the information (links) that the users are
freely put at Google's disposition. 

In relation to advertisers, Google performs a different extraction: On the
surface Google sells 'attention', but what differentiates Google's product is
that the involvement is much deeper. What the advertisers buy is not just
attention but structured attention, i.e their ads are inscribed in an ordered
universe where there is a value hierarchy (i.e. page rank) and where users are
involved and have proximity to the ads through the personal, intimate nature of
their search, and of other variables extracted from the biopolitical data that
they have 'donate' to google. (Google is probably the only one who knows what
most peoples secret interests are..)

Investors in turn Google shares partly because of the straight of its brand
which is a result of the affect that the company has been able to accumulate. 

The model does have a lot of similarities with the feudal manor, only that the
whip is no longer there. Rather google has two ways to maintain their users and
keep them 'donating'. One, to control, absorb and 'technize' as much of their
life as possible, making it difficult for them to do without google (google,
maps, mail, calendar,etc.). Two, to keep 'giving something back', a functioning
service, a cool brand, positive affective relations. I think the latter is the
most important dimension. 

Users freely give of their life energies to google (use Google), primarily
because they have an affective affinity with google. The model is the same in
things like open source software or participation in creative commons
production. Users give of their time and energy because they share an affective
sympathy for the particular community (Linux or wikipedia). The value of the
productive community is not directly related to the labour time that it can
accumulate,but to the affect that it can accumulate: the model resembles that
of the charismatic leader in Max Weber's analysis. (Charismatic leaders owe
their power to their ability to create community. They then live of the gifts
that the community bestows them.) Google actually takes this one step further:
Proximity is not only or primarily based on ideological identification or on
the  experience of community, as in Open-Source.  Rather it is based on
the direct technizaton of affect. Google, in effect becomes an extension of
your psyche, a part of you, an externalization of your desire and interests. 

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