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archives begin in 1996

on Digital Capitalism

My book The Critique of Digital Capitalism identifies how digital technology has captured contemporary society in a reification of capitalist priorities. The theory proposed in this book is the description of how digital capitalism as an ideologically invisible framework is realized in technology. These posts are excerpts from my on-going research:

  • CTheory articles on digital capitalism and media theory

  • from Hz Journal, no. 19, July 2014: "Critical Glitches and Glitch Art"

  • "Das exakte Leben" in Suddeutsche Zeitung,
    Thomas Steinfeld, September 8, 2016

  • Nothing Left to Steal, Dmitry Orlov, March 18, 2011

  • If you are looking for more on agnotology, digital capitalism or automated/immaterial labor, look at my published articles, posted in .pdf and with links to the magazines, under "articles" on


    WBG interviews me about Bitcoin & Digital Capitalism

    story © Michael Betancourt | published February 17, 2018 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    WBG has an interview about my work in The Critique of Digital Capitalism titled Gerechtigkeit in Zeiten der Digitalisierung available on their website in German:

    1. Haben Kryptowhrungen wie Bitcoin nach Ihrer Meinung auf lngere Sicht eine Zukunft?
    Die sich in Bitcoin und anderen Kryptowhrungen darstellende Technologie wird vielleicht neben ihrer Funktion, eine virtuelle Ware zu sein in der internationalen Bankindustrie zur Anwendung kommen. Es gibt einige Experimente in diese Richtung, aber fr die allgemeine ffentlichkeit erwarte ich, dass es zu einem Zusammenbruch kommen wird, sobald alle Bitcoins geschrft sind. Das Verstndnis dieser Entwicklung hngt von mehreren Eigenschaften der Technologie selbst ab: dass das Schrfen von Bitcoins ein Nebenprodukt der Berechnungen ist, die fr einzelne Transaktionen erforderlich sind, ist weithin bekannt. . . .

    Here are my answers in English:

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    notes on Digital::Material

    story © Michael Betancourt | published January 3, 2018 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    Materiality for the digital describes an ambivalent relationship between two distinct, but overlapping, understandings of materialism. The first is familiar from art history and criticism: the literal substance of the digitalthe electronic signals that encode binary data. This digital code is what enables computer operations and is the substance of all electronic files. Artistic and aesthetic engagements with the materiality of the digital are addressed to the technological and semiotic functioning of encoded files and the use of computer languages. In manipulating these features of digital technology, artists (and critics) are addressing the materiality of that technology and its active role evident in even the most banal or prosaic uses of computer and digital technologies. This first meaning for materiality has an extensive use in the discussion and analysis of technological and computer art, and is apparent from the recurring emphasis on computer programming in the evaluation of digital art. The materialist engagement with the technology itself is a precursor to the differentiation between art addressed to the machine, and art that addresses what the machine can make. This understanding of digital materiality transforms computer software and hardware (computer art) into an analogue for the same formal relations from other artistic media such as paintingit recreates a conception where the manipulation of software/paint on the hardware/canvas brings the realm of digital art into a coherent parallel to older, established media, allowing the transfer of the art historical conceptions of materiality to apply to the discussion and analysis of the digital.

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    for 'Excavating Transcendence'

    story © Michael Betancourt | published December 8, 2017 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    The Modernist desire for transcendence common to abstraction and abstract art generally is an attempt to escape from the physical repressions of industrial capitalism, a translation of the alienation of capitalist social valorization into a rejection and alienation from physicality. This erasure of the physical world from consideration becomes internalized as the aura of the digital's effacement of concern with physicality and matierial restrictions, giving these rejections an esoteric, theological significance as an appeal to and instantiation of an immaterial realm accessed through the digital computer.

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    notes on 'The Fantasy of Equivalence'

    story © Michael Betancourt | published December 7, 2017 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    An erasure of ontological distinctions plays a crucial role in the commodification of human labor as an assumption of equivalence between not only differently skilled labor, but the products of that labor: that the variable quality of production does not figure into its valuations. This basis is innate to the question Karl Marx addresses at the start of his analysis, Why is labor represented by the value of its product (commodities), and labor time by the magnitude of that value?, which reveals equivalence as a foundational, even necessary part of the definition of capitalism. Although exchange value arises from social activity, it is at the same time dependent on the suspension of differenceequivalence reifies the commodity form as an abstraction apart from its materiality, a separation that recalls the aura of the digitalreturning digital capitalism to its origins in the industrial labor. Marxs analytic enshrines equivalence by setting aside distinctions between high and low quality, as well as between skilled and unskilled labor, in order to advance an abstraction of that productive process that depended on the assumption of the interchangeability of commodities, labor, and capital. His disregard for the material and qualitative differences between commodities mirrored the labor-intensive manufacturing processes of the period when he developed his critique: the concern with the productive capabilities of labor as a constraint on production provides a literal limit on quantity, valuation, and quality of the productive labor performed, for example, by the unskilled child labor employed in the factories Marx was considering. This issuechild laboris an implicit and unacknowledged component assumption for his analytic, one that simultaneously passes without comment in its construction but that guides the conclusions he derives.

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    Fake News and Agnotology

    story © Michael Betancourt | published December 6, 2017 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    The emergence of the fake news phenomenon in the United States during 2016 and 2017 demonstrates the political applications of agnotology, quite apart from its structural role in maintaining digital capitalism. In being used for obviously political ends, agnotology reveals its foundations in equivalence: a social relations and assumptions, whether between instances of type, qualitatively distinct actions, or in divergent forms of immaterial (intellectual) labor are symptoms of the expansive semiotic processes of digital capitalism.

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