Dallas Smythe and ‘the consciousness industry’, or why ‘attention’ isn’t ‘labour’

Facial tracking system, showing gaze direction, emotion scores and demographic profiling

‘I’ll consume my consumers, [with] no sense of humour’ — Grace Jones, Corporate Cannibal

I keep failing to write up a talk I did over 18 months ago in Bristol for the Politics and Economics of Attention seminar convened by Jessica Pykett. My main argument is that the ways that a thing called ‘the attention economy’ gets figured by a lot of folks, including Christian Marazzi, and Bernard Stiegler to an extent, is that ‘attention’ is ‘work’ and therefore it can be factored through the marxian labour theory of value. Indeed, Jonathan Beller flips this and suggests that, rather, work is a form of attention and therefore it should be the ‘attention  theory of value’.

There’s another version of this story, which is also based in marxian theory. This is perhaps best articulated (in my limited reading) by Dallas Smythe regarding advertising and the broadcast media but can also be accessed from a rather different angle via David Harvey’s work on wine. In this version of the economisation of attention, attention is not ‘work’, instead attention is a commodity. The advertiser rents an  audience from the broadcaster, which is more-or-less demographically specific due to profiling. Smythe refers to this as a kind of ‘consciousness industry’ (presumably in a similar vein to the ‘culture industry’). This is more precisely the case with online advertising where, through all sorts of techniques, the profiling can appear to be a lot more specific. As Smythe has it in a 1977 paper for the Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory:

What do advertisers buy with their advertising expenditures? … they are not paying for advertising for nothing… I suggest that hat they buy are the services of audiences with predictable specifications who will pay attention in predictable numbers … at particular times to a particular means of communication… As collectives these audiences are commodities. … Such markets establish prices in the familiar mode of monopoly capitalism.

A sub-industry sector of the consciousness industry checks to determine [that the audience pays attention]. … The behaviour of the members of the audience product under the impact of the advertising … content is the object of market research by a large number of independent market research agencies as well as by… the advertising corporation and in media enterprises.

The most important resource employed in producing the audience commodity are [sic.] the individuals and families in the nations which permit advertising.

So, while it may be useful for some to consider that the ways in which we are addressed as an audience and the kinds of ways we ‘pay attention’ can be figured as ‘labour’ that has a value and therefore exploits apparent leisure time as, instead, a continuation of work by other means, this does not perhaps tell the whole story. The advertising businesses are, certainly, using all sorts of ways to profile us and in some senses individualise a potential target for an advert but this is in order to serve up aggregates of profiles to advertisers as a commodity from which they extract rent. I should note Smythe does not see it that way but instead analyses the whole system of monopoly capitalism in which advertising is operating and in which there is, what he expertly articulates as:

…the contradictions produced within the audience commodity [which] should be understood more clearly … as between audience members serving a producers’ goods in the marketing of mass produced consumer goods and their work in producing and reproducing labour power.

Maybe I should write this up… it’s quite an interesting argument and as I said in my talk some time ago I think it highlights the issues with contradiction in the ‘attention commodity’ between it’s apparent uniqueness and a reproducibility as a ‘type’. There are a few avenues of critique open as a result. One, is to think the categorisation techniques as a pharmakon, perhaps to interrogate the processes of calculation/categorisation as rethink-able, another might be to look at ‘derivative’ nature of the categorisations, and how this produces a form of financialisation ( for e.g. following Louise Amoore) and another still might be to explore alternative valuations – whereby people take an active role in ‘selling’ themselves into this commodity market (for e.g. following Sarah Gold).

Hyperland

glitches image of a 1990s NASA VR experience

A bit of nostalgia… ‘practising tomorrows‘ and all that.

Lots of things to crit with the benefit of hindsight, which I’m sure some folks did – I mean, the peculiar sort of aesthetic policing implied is funny and the fact that none of the folk used as talking heads can imagine a collaborative form of authorship is quite interesting. This programme came out in 1990, around the same time Berners Lee is pioneering the web – a rather different, perhaps more “interactive” vision of ‘multimedia’ – insofar as with the web we can all contribute to the creation as well as consumption of media [he writes in the dialog box of the “Add New Post” page of the WordPress interface]…

A slightly geeky thing I appreciate though is the very clear visual reference to the 1987 Apple Computer ‘video prototype’ called ‘Knowledge Navigator‘ (<–follow the link, third video down, see also), which I’m certain is deliberate.

The ambiguity of sharing images

Two tweets, about 12 hours apart. It seems to me, in an entirely unsystematic, morning coffee kind of analysis, that the two posts demonstrate something of the ambiguity of image sharing practices and circulation of images (on Twitter)… at least in my experience of one platform, Twitter.

The “Grease” tweet, through humour, attempts to comment on contemporary geopolitics. The veracity (or not) of the image possibly doesn’t matter.

The ‘fact check’ nature of the later tweet directly addresses the (lack of) authenticity of the image itself. Showing the ‘original’.

So there’s something about ‘fakeness’ of media, the politics of circulation, something about simulacrum and the convening of publics and maybe something about the ambivalence of image making and sharing practices that falls within the “meme” discourse.

In discussing her work as part of the RGS-IBG ‘digital geographies’ working group symposium about 10 days ago, Gillian Rose discussed the ways in which we may or may not malign the ‘everydayness’ of photographic or image practices and why it remains necessary to study and engage with the everyday practices of meaning-making (there’s a course for this, co-convened by Gillian).

This perhaps prompts some questions about the above tweets. For example, what is it we can or might want to say about the images themselves, their circulation and how they fit into wider, everyday, meaning-making practices? The doctored image fits into a particular aesthetic of ‘memes’ and is contextualised in text in the post, which also goes for the ‘fact check’ tweet too, in a way. How do we interpret the (likely) different intentions behind the thousands of retweets of the above? How might we capture the ‘polymedia’ (following Miller et al.) lives of such images? (Is that even possible?) How might we interrogate what I’m suggesting is the ambivalence of ‘sharing’? I suggest this cannot be served by the mass analysis of image corpora (following Manovich), nor is it really reducible to the ‘attention economy’ – it’s not only about the labour of sharing or the advertising it enables. Instead, I guess what I’m fumbling towards is asking for the analysis of the circulation practices for (copies of) a single image within a network (which may or may not span different platforms).

The danger, I increasingly feel, is that we all-too-quickly resort to super-imposing onto these case studies our ontotheological or ideological meta-narratives – so, it may ‘really’ be about affect, neoliberalism and so on… except of course, it isn’t only about those things, and while they may be important analytical frames they may not address the questions we’re interested in, or should be, posing. I’m not saying such framings are wrong, I’m saying they’re not the only frames of analysis.

All of this leads me to confess that I am beginning to wonder if our ‘digital methods‘ (following Rogers and others) are really up to this sort of task… As yet I’ve not read anything to convince me otherwise, which actually sort of surprises me. The closest I’ve got is the media ethnography work of the outstanding Why We Post project – but, of course, that isn’t particularly a “digital” method, which maybe says something (maybe about my own bias). I’d be interested to know if anyone has any thoughts.

A further thing I wonder is whether or not these sorts of practices will remain stable enough for long enough to warrant the ‘slower’, considered, kinds of research that might enable us to begin to get at answers to my all-too-general, or misplaced, questions above. I remain haunted by undergraduate and masters research into now-defunct platforms and styles of media use… friendster and myspace anyone?

Some relevant links:

Reblog> CFP: Affect, Politics, Social Media

Via Tony Sampson.

This may be of interest to followers of this blog…

Call for papers: Affect, Politics, Social Media

In prolongation of Affect and Social Media #3 Conjunctions: Transdisciplinary Journal of Cultural Participation welcomes proposals that interpret and explore affective and emotional encounters with social media and the ways in which the interfaces of social media in return modulate affectivity. Fake news have come to be a highly debated framework to understand the consequences of the entanglements of affect, politics and social media. But theories on fake news often fail to grasp the consequences and significance of social media content that are not necessarily fake, but are merely intended to affectively intensify certain political positions.

It is in this context that it becomes crucial to understand the role of affect in relation to the ways in which social media interfaces function, how affective relations are altered on social media and not least how politics is transformed in the attempt to capitalize on the affective relations and intensities potentially fostered on social media.

This special issue invites empirical, theoretical and practical contributions that focus on recent (political) media events – such as Brexit, the US and French elections and the refugee crisis – and how these unfolded on, and are informed by, social media. Proposals might, for instance, address how the Trump campaign allows us to develop a new understanding of the relationship between social media and politics. As such the issue seeks papers that develop new understandings of affective politics and take into account shared experiences, affective intensities, emotional engagements and new entanglements with social media.

For more information, including author guidelines, please visit http://www.conjunctions-tjcp.com/

Deadline 28 November 2017

Articles must be submitted to conjunctions@cc.au.dk

(Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work – Brooke Erin Duffy

Via Culture Digitally.

This looks like an interesting read by Brooke Erin Duffy. Although I know what Duffy calls here “aspirational work” is popular, I have been a bit surprised by how many of our students at Exeter actively do this kind of work – mostly fashion vlogging. I have had at least one dissertation on the topic for each of the last three years and many of the videos produced for my final year option module draw on these themes. Those I’ve spoken to are acutely aware of the nuances of the negotiations of different norms and values – ‘authenticity’ and getting paid don’t always sit well together it seems.

I hope I have the chance to check out this book so I can actually learn more about what I can only vaguely sketch (perhaps wrongly) at the moment, I hope some of those who read this will too…

Book Announcement: (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work

Fashion bloggers and Instagrammers seem to enjoy a coveted lifestyle–one replete with international jet-setting, designer-comped fetes, and countless other caption-worthy moments. Yet the attention lavished on these so-called “influencers” draws attention away from a much larger class of social media content creators: those aspiring to “make it” amid a precarious, hyper-competitive creative economy.

I tell their story in my new book (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work, and I’m grateful to my publisher Yale University Press for allowing me to share the first chapter with you.

The book focuses on female content creators and draws upon in-depth interviews with bloggers, vloggers, designers, and more. I learned that, often, these young women were motivated by the wider culture’s siren call to “get paid to do what you love.” But their experiences often fell short of the promise: only a few rise above the din to achieve major success. The rest are un(der)- paid, remunerated with deferred promises of “exposure” or “visibility”–even as they work long hours to satisfy brands and project authenticity to observant audiences.

A grueling balancing act is required, one that I explore through the lens of “aspirational labor.” As both a practice and a worker ideology, aspirational labor shifts content creators’ focus from the present to the future, dangling the prospect of a career where labor and leisure coexist.

Despite the book’s emphasis on gendered work, the concept of “aspirational labor” offers a framework for understanding, critiquing, and anticipating larger transformations in the social media economy. Indeed, the book closes by exploring the striking parallels between social media aspirants’ self-branding labor and the work so many of us undertake in contemporary academe.

CFP> “VIRAL/GLOBAL Popular Culture and Social Media: An International Perspective” 13th Sept 17 CAMRI

Via Tony Sampson.

“VIRAL/GLOBAL Popular Culture and Social Media: An International Perspective” The University of Westminster Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), Sept 13th 2017

Date:
13 September 2017
Time: 9:00am to 7:00pm
Location: 309 Regent Street Regent Campus, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2HW – View map

Gone-Viral-event-main-photo

Conference organised by the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI)

Keynote Panel

  • Nancy Baym 
  • Emily Keightley
  • Dave Morley (TBC)
  • Tony D Sampson
  • Paddy Scannell

This interdisciplinary conference aims to examine how and why everyday popular culture is produced and consumed on digital platforms. There is increasing interest in studying and discussing the linkages between popular cultural and social media, yet there exist important gaps when comparing such cultural phenomena and modes of consumption in a global, non-west-centric context. The conference addresses a significant gap in theoretical and empirical work on social media by focusing on the politics of digital cultures from below and in the context of everyday life. To use Raymond Williams’s phrase, we seek to rethink digital viral cultures as ‘a whole way of life’; how ‘ordinary’, everyday digital acts can amount to forms of ‘politicity’ that can redefine experience and what is possible.

The conference will examine how social media users engage with cultural products in digital platforms. We will also be assessing how the relationship between social media and popular cultural phenomena generate different meanings and experiences.

The conference engages with the following key questions:

  • How do online users in different global contexts engage with viral/popular cultures?
  • How can the comparative analysis of different global contexts help us contribute to theorising emergent viral cultures in the age of social media?
  • How do viral digital cultures redefine our experience of self and the world?

We welcome papers from scholars that will engage critically with particular aspects of online popular cultures. Themes may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Analysing viral media texts: method and theory
  • Theorising virality: new/old concepts
  • Rethinking popular culture in the age of social media
  • Social media, politicity and the viral
  • The political economy of viral cultures
  • Memes, appropriation, collage, virality and trash aesthetics
  • Making/doing/being/consuming viral texts
  • Hybrid strategies of anti-politics in digital media
  • Viral news/Fake news
  • Non-mainstream music, protest, and political discussion
  • Capitalism and viral marketing

PROGRAMME AND REGISTRATION

This one-day conference, taking place on Wednesday, 13th of September 2017, will consist of a keynote panel and panel sessions. The fee for registration for all participants, including presenters, will be £40, with a concessionary rate of £15 for students, to cover all conference documentation, refreshments and administration costs.

DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS

The deadline for abstracts is Monday 10 July 2017. Successful applicants will be notified by Monday 17 July of 2017. Abstracts should be 250 words. They must include the presenter’s name, affiliation, email and postal address, together with the title of the paper and a 150-word biographical note on the presenter. Please send all these items together in a single Word file, not as pdf, and entitle the file and message with ‘CAMRI 2017’ followed by your surname. The file should be sent by email to Events Coordinator Karen Foster at har-events@westminster.ac.uk

Original: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/call-for-papers-viral-global-popular-cultures-and-social-media-an-international-perspective

Reblog> CFP – Online Vitriol: Advocacy, Violence, and the Transforming Power of Social Media

Call for Papers

Online Vitriol: Advocacy, Violence, and the Transforming Power of Social Media

A Joint Conference of the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture & the Zentrum für Medien und Interaktivität, Giessen, Germany
Wednesday June 29th – Saturday July 1st, 2017 (optional opening lecture by dr. Sarah Kendzior on the evening of June 28th)
For whom:
Researchers in the fields of culture and (digital) media, and related fields

Professionals dealing with online advocacy and social media presence of their organization

Journalists and others dealing with social media and (violent) online discourse

PhD and MA students in culture and media studies

Conference aim:
To employ our collective knowledge, experience, research and intelligence to arrive at a conceptual and practical understanding of the medial and cultural dynamics of online vitriol.

To work towards “A Rough Guide to Online Vitriol: Dealing with Violence and Activism on Social Media in Theory and Practice” (working title). To be published later.

Social media have become inescapable, and they have an overwhelming impact on sociality and public life. Platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram give rise to a diverse range of discourses and communication styles. This conference wants to understand the power of social media, not only – as it has often been perceived – as democratizing, but also as powerful vehicles for politically driven bullying and violence. Relevant to people, organizations, and other agents across twenty-first-century society, this topic is increasingly studied from a range of disciplines and perspectives. Virtually everyone has to deal with social media and the discourses it enables and produces. But while the technology exists and seems at first sight intuitively accessible, the agency, dynamics and ethics of social media platforms are not yet well-understood.
‘Trolls for Trump’, online virus ‘scares’, fake news – social media discourse has become a formidable, yet elusive, political force. This conference wants to begin to address some of the issues around the power of online vitriol, by studying discourses, metaphors, media dynamics, and framing on social media. What is it? How does it work? What does it do? And how can it be addressed or countered?
To fruitfully question the political impact of contemporary communication structures and discourses, the conference goes beyond the traditional presenter/audience dichotomy. Instead, it works towards producing a book for academics and professionals confronted with social media violence, provisionally titled “A Rough Guide to Online Vitriol: Dealing with Violence and Advocacy on Social Media in Theory and Practice”. The conference combines academic theorizing with perspectives from professionals active in media, communication, the public sector and journalism, so as to arrive at conceptually rigorous and useful conclusions to guide our own and our organizations’ use of social media.
Possible topics
Bringing together media and communication specialists from various professions (e.g. public sector, press, NGOs) and cultural and media studies students and scholars, the aim is to create crosspollination between theoretical approaches from cultural and media studies on the one hand, and practical challenges and experiences ‘from the field’ on the other.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
Privacy and surveillance through social media platforms

Liveness and online temporalities

Tweeting while female

Clickbait as political activism

Shares, likes, profile clicks and other platform-specific metrics

The impact of Facebook’s platform structure and changing algorithms on what can be expressed

‘Communicative capitalism’ and the dynamics of online virality

Politics of trolling and reporting

Representing social media in popular culture

How ‘new’ are online communication practices?

Framing narratives and ideals in a potentially hostile environment

Practical
The conference is free of charge. However, we ask that, during the conference, all participants agree to be offline, and try to be fully present and contemplative.
We welcome proposals of papers, case studies, ideas, and discussion topics from scholars and professionals in the listed fields, as well as related areas of specialization. Please submit a 300-word abstract and a short biography (100 words) to Sara Polak (s.a.polak@hum.leidenuniv.nl), Rahel Schmitz (rahel.schmitz@gcsc.uni-giessen.de), and Ann-Marie Riesner (ann.m.riesner@gcsc.uni-giessen.de) by May 15th, 2017.

Public scholarship, or: profs should edit wikipedia

Over on Savage Minds Rex Golub has written a compelling provocation about the places of ‘public anthropology’ (which I think could probably be broadened to ‘public scholarship). He points out that it’s all very well writing letters to venerable broad sheet newspapers but that doesn’t necessarily achieve much. Instead, Professors (or academics more broadly) might better spend their time editing wikipedia pages because that is the prime site of the public sourcing, and contestation, of knowledge. I think its quite a compelling argument… not least when thinking about the current trend and push for demonstrating “impact”. Isn’t it quite “impactful” to be the person who attempts to ensure that the most widely used source of knowledge on a given topic is rigorously written/edited? There’s no academic brownie points in that though… no promotions or awards/rewards are going to be given on that basis!

What do you think?

…my issue is that anthropologists are doing public anthropology in the wrong places and in the wrong way because they don’t understand how social media works today and are seduced by an out-moded model of cultural capital that makes them feels heroic, but it isn’t actually efficacious.

The new public anthropology, on the other hand, is not glamorous, will not make you famous, can be emotionally uncomfortable, involves working in new and unfamiliar genres, and can change the world. A good example of this sort of public anthropology is editing Wikipedia

Wikipedia is ground zero for knowledge in the world today. Everyone uses it to look stuff up quickly. Everyone. Some people may take it more seriously than others, but because its content can be reused on other sites, what wikipedia says spreads everywhere. For better or for worse – I’d say for better – it’s the public record of the state of human knowledge at the moment. Unlike letters to the New York Times, Wikipedia gets read. Constantly. When you contribute to Wikipedia, you are concretely and immediately altering what the world knows about your topic of expertise.

Ambient literature – new research project

Former colleagues at UWE in the Digital Cultures Research Centre are formally launching their project on what they call ‘ambient literature’ this Friday.

There’s some info on the project copied below, it follows on from a trajectory you can trace through the ‘pervasive media’ canon (with the lovely people from Calvium [many formerly of HP Labs Bristol] instrumental in how this has been technically achieved), from the Mobile Bristol RIOT! 1831 project, Duncan Speakman’s subtle mobs, the fabulous Fortnight project from Proto-typeCurzon Memories, REACT projects like These Pages Fall Like Ash and (my colleague Nicola Thomas’) Dollar Princess – a rich and varied history of work…

Ambient Literature is a two-year collaboration between the University of West EnglandBath Spa University, the University of Birmingham, and development partners Calvium, Ltd. established to investigate the locational and technological future of the book. Funded through a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project is focused on the study of emergent forms of literature that make use of novel technologies and social practices in order to create robust and evocative experiences for readers.Launched in London, Bristol and online in June 2016, the project draws on the REACT Hub’s experience working with creative industries in order to produce three experimental projects from three different authors. Forming the heart of the project, these commissioned pieces allow researchers to study the processes of innovation and negotiation that become visible as established authors work in the new forms opened up by the idea of Ambient Literature. Combining practice-based, empirical and theoretical research, the project seeks to test out new literary forms and develop a grammar for writing Ambient Literature.

This is an interdisciplinary project focused on understanding how the situation of reading is changing through pervasive and ubiquitous computing. Drawing on literary studies, creative writing, design, human-computer interaction, performance and new media studies, the research being developed looks to engage with the history of the book and see what that history is able to tell us about its future.