Notes Toward a Critique of Technology as Mysticism [I]

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The following notes are derived from study of debates around the advent of information technology & “the internet of things”. They stand as a prelude to a more fundamental critique of Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: a Guide to Our Future (London: Allen Lane, 2015), which I view as the most advanced of idealist thought on the matter. The starting point, here, is a reflection on the labour-power exercised in the field of marketing.

I

The labour-power exercised in marketing is intended to realise Value, rather than to directly produce it. In this sense, the standard (productivity) of the labour-power presents itself in relation to how much it realises Value (here, the saleable quality of the commodity in consideration – competition has taken on the characteristics of depreciating or appreciating Value). This may only be considered in relation to a generalised property of labour-power, within a given industry. Marketing lives & dies on generalisation, that is, competition. Whilst it is productive labour, whether or not it realises Value – “producing profit” – is defined by social, ideological & material processes fundamentally outside of the act of production. Productive labour is, in this process, turned on its head. A wealth of commodities are produced for their use-value, precisely because their use is the realisation of Value. Here, the 2-fold nature of commodities appears in absolute, insoluble contradiction.

This is made acute by the present operation of the means of production. Information technology represents a qualitative change in the manner in which information is exchanged in contemporary society. 2 factors have led to this transformation: quantity (abundance) & the reproduction of a commodity as non-labour. The 1st aspect is fundamental, the 2nd is its technical expression. Mason, despite all the flaws within his argument, identifies this central aspect of the present stage of the productive forces of information:

‘The equilibrium state of an info-tech economy is one where monopolies dominate and people have unequal access to the information they need to make rational buying decisions. […] A track on iTunes costs next to zero to store on Apple’s server, and next to zero to transmit to my computer. Whatever it cost the record company to produce (in terms of artist fees and marketing costs) it costs me 99p simply because it’s unlawful to copy it for free.

[…]

To run a multibillion dollar business based on information, Apple does not only rely on copyright law, it has built an entire walled garden of expensive technologies that work together – the Mac, iTunes, the iPod, the iCloud, the iPhone and the iPad – to make it easier to obey the law than to break it. As a result iTunes dominates global digital music sales, with around 75 per cent of the market.’ (Mason, pp.118-119.)

Monopoly, the last word of Capitalist development, is the 1st word of information technology.

II

The means of production are in clear contradiction, antagonism even, with the present relations of production. The immense social potential of the internet (& its residual forms) may only be turned into a source of profit by an essentially absolute monopoly. The monopoly & the cartel, not competition, are the only way that the exploitative bondage of Capitalist society may function in this instance. The law of Value is imposed as an artificial, utterly unnecessary, relation upon production. Competition then begins to operate within & through monopoly. Before we proceed to analyse this phenomenon, we will examine 2 quick examples of said monopolies.

Google

Total value (December, 2015): $527bn
Total searches through Google per annum: 1.2tr (3bn per day)
Share of search engine market: between 67% & 90%
Google owns around 3% of the global advertising market.

Net income (Q3, 2015): $3.979bn

Nearest competitor (in search engines) total revenue (2015 financial year): $1bn – Bing

Sources: x | x | x | x | x

Facebook

Total value (June, 2015): $245bn
Monthly active users (Q4, 2015): 1.59bn (around 20% of the world’s population)
Total internet users in world population (November, 2015): 3.37bn
Facebook share of social networking (July, 2015): 45.6%

Nearest competitor share of social networking (July, 2015): 21.5%, YouTube (owned by Google)

2nd nearest: 4.73%, Twitter

Sources: x | x | x | x

This trend is repeated in every important arena on the internet. Everywhere, enormous monopolies reign. Those that reign predominantly online extract their massive profits from advertising revenue. In respect of the 2 companies just examined: in 2012, around 70% of Google’s revenue was taken from AdWords & AdSense; similarly, in Q1, 2012, 82% of Facebook’s revenue was from advertising.

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