‘We live in a culture of real virtuality’

The famous sociologist Manuel Castells in an interview by Paul Mason (BBC): 

“With Facebook and with all these social networks what happened is that we live constantly networked. We live in a culture of not virtual reality, but real virtuality because our virtuality, meaning the internet networks, the images are a fundamental part of our reality. We cannot live outside this construction of ourselves in the networks of communication.”

Ever wondered why people try to redefine themselves by nationalism, regionalism, membership of small subcultures, even though the world is globalizing fast? I think Castells has some anwers on that too: 

“The more we are connected to everything and everybody and every activity, the more we need to know who we are. Unless I know who I am, I don’t know where I am in the world, because then I am a consumer, I am taken by the market, I am taken by the media.

“And therefore people decide that they are going to be different. But to do that, they have to identify themselves as individuals, as collectives, as nations, as genders, all these categories that sociologists have already constructed time ago.”

Castells explains how people in this crisis engage in co-operative or non-profit work. It’s a kind of ‘non-capitalism’. 

Putting now on my list: his new book Aftermath. 

via Diigo http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-19932562

Do you believe in the Exodus Recession?

” Since 1800, technological advance has been associated with economic growth. The new stuff being built saved labor input, which was then put into the construction of other things. However, the most recent technological advances may not be growth-inducing. As Samuelson puts it, “Gordon sees the Internet, smartphones and tablets as tilted toward entertainment, not labor-saving.””

Professor Edward Castronova, who once wrote a book about the exodus to virtual worlds, sees some more evidence of an exodus recession. 

He’s not just talking about virtual worlds however, but also about your average digital stuff such as tablets and smartphones. It makes us want less ‘real’ things and so it makes it harder for the economy to grow. One might say, let’s measure growth in a different way, taking into account this digital shift. But then again, our social security for instance depends on the economy and the money which is actually earned there. 

So will we all hide into virtual worlds to forget the misery of the recession-ridden ‘real world’? Or is this speculation very wrong, as the digital evolution is now affecting the ‘world of the atoms’ in a radical way (think 3D printers, hardware and bio-hacking). 
via Diigo http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2012/10/more-on-the-exodus-recession-technology-entertainment-and-our-economic-doldrums.html

How virtual environments could destroy the economy: by being so cheap

While the educators and non-profit people in Second Life are up in arms against the loss of their discount pricing, I’ve been reading an intriguing text about a world characterized by a consumption trap.

Economists are familiar with the notion of a liquidity trap, a situation in which monetary policy is unable to stimulate an economy, either through lowering interest rates or increasing the money supply. So what could be a consumption trap?

Rick Bookstaber explains it all: technology reduces the differences in consumption behavior between the rich and the poor. In 2025, what we’ll all be doing? We’ll have sophisticated, deeply immersive gaming environments, which offer compelling experiences for free or for a low fee. On a personal note, I’d say imagine some virtual world, Second Life maybe, but much more sophisticated and super immersive. You can have the house of your dreams or your office building or whatever for a tiny fraction of the cost of the real thing.

Or imagine social networks such as Facebook, which become such a ubiquitous part of our mobile, ‘always on’ lives. Whether one is extremely rich or rather miserable, who could resist the possibility to be “anyone we want in whatever world we want, accompanied by whomever we want, all with full sensory feedback.”

Not only is this consumption cheap, the production of those services is not very expensive nor very labor intensive. Maybe those games will be primarily just platforms, and the content will be user-generated, by people who create the content for fun.

For some, this vision of the year 2025 would be unsettling, for others highly desirable. Bookstaber however points out that this evolution would be very challenging for the economy. The reason? Economies need consumption, they need us to earn money and also to spend it. But we only have that many hours we can consume, and what if most of that time would go to free or cheap activities?

Bookstaber, a senior policy adviser at the SEC, also mentions Robert Reich’s book Aftershock. You’ll find the main arguments of that book in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

Reich says that telecom, containers, computers and finally the internet made it easier for American employers to rely on outsourcing or automating the production process. The middle class has a hard time to find jobs and to earn a decent income. In 1970 the 1 percent richest families earned about 9 percent of total income in the US, in 2007 that’s 23,5 percent.

Those very rich consume a much smaller part of their enormous incomes compared to the ordinary citizens, which leads to insufficient consumption to keep the economy going. So technology made this increasingly unequal distribution of income possible, which causes macro economic problems such as insufficient consumption, too much debts by the struggling middle class and asset bubbles.

What Bookstaber says, is that in the future the distribution of wealth and income will matter less, because technology enables people to consume in roughly the same way, whether they are very rich or rather poor.

All of which is not something which makes me feel very happy, but these ideas sure are fascinating.