Saturday, July 11, 2009

Is the Net the New Socialism?

Kevin Kelly wrote in Wired a provocative article portraying Internet as the new socialism.
Concretely he was referring to phenomena like user generated contents and user produced goods.
This article was brilliantly rebated by Lessig on the basis of the significance of concept socialism.
Lessig points out that Socialism implies using the power of the State to change society and produce a kind of outcome that wouldn't be possible without its use: the end of explotation of proletarians and the dawn of a new era of freedom.
Even if this is completely correct, I believe there is an omission, probably because the focus was on what is wrong in Kelly's article. Even if public production of public goods existed since the beginning of humanity, Internet brought two fundamental changes to this production: a) an effortless way of sharing and reproducing information goods and b) a complete democratization of the means of production of these informational goods.
This is the reason why some like Bauwens argue that this change is important enough to label it as a new mode of production: p2p.
Capitalism, markets and production modes are not static concepts written in stone and immune to technological changes. They are, like everything else such as organizational structures, limited by our capacity at a point in time, of creating technological artifacts to support them. As we progress we are increasingly able to incorporate intelligence and connectivity to these artifacts, therefore part of the coordination effort can be offloaded from human power (middle management) to the platform (e.g. wikipedia).
This process, by using abstraction as a resource, implies a simplification of the capacities that we need to operate and interact, allowing more of us to participate or use the resource. For example, you don't need to be an expert on a complex word processor in order to be able to edit an encyclopedia like in the 70's, now everybody can do it.
However, these new capacities don't exist in isolation, they coexist with traditional companies and interact - sometimes compete - with them. Companies recognize their value and try to use their potential, so do governments and non-profit.
Is this socialism? or on the contrary emphasizes the free will and individual action as a key driver of human history? I think it does!

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2 Comments:

Blogger Bidatzi M. Bastida said...

Very interesting Esteve. I would summarize the whole proposition in a somewhat Hayekian way: the Net greatly reduces (but in no way eliminates) the famed "socialist calculation problem", i.e. the impossibility of aggregating all the needed information for (full and "optimal") centralized decision making.

It also has an enormous impact in facilitating public participation in the political process. In this regard, it's amazing to read texts from the American Revolution (The Federalist for example, or the letters from Jefferson and Adams). To me, it is really refreshing that they were having these healthy discussions about public involvement in governing affairs in an era where the tools to achieve that were so incredibly poor compared to what we have now.

11:00 PM  
Blogger esteve almirall said...

Indeed, many times we tend to undervalue the efforts of our predecessors and believe that because we have better tools we necessarily have better thinking ...

11:46 PM  

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