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The Critique of Digital Capitalism

story © Michael Betancourt | published January 11, 2016 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism

My book is now out from Punctum Books, and available on amazon.com. Running 265 pages, this volume collects and expands my critical theory essays pubished over the past decade:

Introduction
​1​ The Ideology of Automation
​2 ​The Emergence of Immaterial Physicality
​3​ The Aura of the Digital
​4​ The Immaterial Commodity
​5​ The Valorization of the Author
​6​ The Black Box of Past Experience
​7​ The State of Information
​8​ The Demands of Agnotology::Surveillance
​9 ​The Scarcity of Capital
​10​ On Immaterialism

The critique introduced in this book develops from basic questions about how digital technologies directly change the structure of society: why is Digital Rights Management not only the dominant solution for distributing digital information, but also the only option being considered? During the burst of the Housing Bubble burst 2009, why were the immaterial commodities being traded of primary concern, but the actual physical assets and the impacts on the people living in them generally ignored? How do surveillance (pervasive monitoring) and agnotology (culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data) coincide as mutually reinforcing technologies of control and restraint? If technology makes the assumptions of its society manifest as instrumentality then what ideology is being realized in the form of the digital computer? This final question animates the critical framework this analysis proposes.




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Rationalized Production

story © Michael Betancourt | published December 7, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism

The rationalization of industrial processes known as Taylorism, appears as the fragmentation of production on the assembly line. This theory initially functions to enable mass production, but finds continued application in the algorythmic translation of agency into digital automation. This approach to how factories organized their processes, codified by engineer and theorist Frederick W. Taylor as scientific management, enables the particular type of mass production that defined American industry in the first half of the twentieth century. Links between Modernist art theory and industrial protocols inform the development of the digital. The transformation of machine labor from an extension of human actionas the mechanical amplification of human laborinto the digital, where the machine does not augment but supplant.




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The Limits of Utility

story © Michael Betancourt | published November 7, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism

CTheory just published my new theory article on automation and the structural attempts of digital capitalism to keep the rate of profit from dropping. The Limits of Utiity develops a critical framework for the importance of utility in the production of value.






 

Use, Value and ROI

story © Michael Betancourt | published August 20, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism

The problematics of value implicit in the productive shift from physical manufacture to the immaterial semiosis characteristic of digital production emerges from the historical expression of value as a storing of human labor in the tangible form of commodities. Any discussion of profit (surplus value) depends on this pair of integral conceptslabor and useboth of which rarely figure in discussions of digital technology and automation except in absentia: the immaterial production characteristic of High Frequency Trading software, digital automation linked to pervasive monitoring (characterizing the value of social networks generally), and the general complex of relationships between production, facture and labor in digital capitalism propose a production of values without the need for human involvement (either via labor or through use) as a solution to the falling rate of profit: the trajectory of automation offers the reduction-elimination of the variable costs presented by wages.




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The "Cat Organ," Sampling, and the Digital

story © Michael Betancourt | published April 12, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism

This article is a revision of my article from Vague Terrain published several years ago.

The technical capabilities of computer technology obscure the nexus of capital, human agency, social reproduction, and physical production; thus, the denial of physicality that is specific to the aura of the digital, and apparent in the evolution from hand-labor to the automation characteristic of digital capitalism, is inherent in how this technology has been deployed. The nineteenth century protestant work ethic is the conceptual starting point for this development, merging the ideology of autonomous achievement with digital technology to create a new ideology of automation.




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NANO Interview

story © Michael Betancourt | published April 5, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism

New American Notes Online is running "An Interview with Michael Betancourt" discussing the theory of digital capitalism.






 

Digital Capitalism talk on YouTube

story © Michael Betancourt | published September 30, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism





 

Value and Use Value (a note)

story © Michael Betancourt | published September 22, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism

A transformation in the nature of currency reflects underlying shifts in the nature of value production: the dominance of semiotic production has produced a shift in the function of currency from its historical foundation in preserving past labor (value) to being a lien against future production (a debt that acts to set labor in motion). This change in the nature of productionthe rise of semiosis that is the primary technique of digital capitalismhas come to dominate value and the organization of labor, with the concomitant effect on the nature of currency. The shift this change entails is a rupture with both classically conceived value and Karl Marxs own set of basic assumptions about the organization of labor. In these historical views value resides with labor already performedpreserved in the commodities thus generated, and whose value is linked to the use value that the commodity has. This construction brings human wants, needs and desires into the framework of valorization both directly (through the functional role of the commodity) and indirectly (through the consumers desire for the commodity, quite apart from its uses).




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Surveillance, Agnotology, Security

story © Michael Betancourt | published July 17, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism

My article that I started writing in 2007, begun before we had good confirmation of the NSA surveillance programs, could only be finished because of what we now know: The Demands of Agnotology::Surveillance addresses the complex links between surveillance, agnotology, and security:

Surveillance is the logical antithesis of agnotology: it acts to produce certainty rather than uncertainty. 'Security' provides a far-reaching, nebulous justification for a range of actions, from expansions of surveillance (immaterial production) to war and imperialism (primitive accumulation). The periodic crashes of capitalism are a symptom of the overextension inherent in capitalism itself, however, moments of 'systemic failure' are not indicators that capitalism will implode; instead, what occurs is a retrenching that results in an expansion of capitalist processes into new domains.




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The Security Apparatus

story © Michael Betancourt | published April 24, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Digital Capitalism

Linkages between agnotology, hyperreality, and surveillance converge in the security apparatus: a paradigm of observation and control whose function is both immaterially productive (it enables the autonomous semiotic generation of value) and restrictive (it enables the mobilization of physical/immaterial force to defend this immaterial production). These productive-restrictive activities are distinct, yet mutually reinforcingthey form a dynamic cycle masked by the aura of the digitals stripping of physicality from conscious consideration. Without this distanciation of the physical, the productive-restrictive cycles would become apparent through their necessarily disenfranchising actions as human agency is usurped by automated processes and autonomous oversight. The security apparatus appears as an impartial, disinterested alternative to the variable contingency of human agency: its uniformly applied mechanical responses create an illusion of objectivity. This mechanical response is a crystalized ideology, an inflexible restriction iterated by the all-or-nothing logic of digital protocols that are incapable of ambiguity, plurality or contingency apparent in the right to read implemented as Digital Rights Management (DRM)either you have authorization or you do not. This authorization implicitly demands a continuous monitoring and maintenance where its authoritarian machinic surveillance, whether as immaterial production or socio-political control, serves to reify the security apparatus in the implementation of digital technology itself. DRM is the most visible prominence of this implicit, ubiquetous system that directly impacts the human readable form of digital objects, but this most apparent example is precisely an isolated surfacing of larger, dominant systems for control and observation that lie within the database that enables immaterial production.




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