Costs of consuming information goods

From Yoachai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, chapter 4:

The efficient allocation of two scarce resources and one public good are at stake in the choice between social production — whether it is peer production or independent nonmarket production — and market-based production. Because most of the outputs of these processes are nonrival goods — information, knowledge, and culture — the fact that the social production system releases them freely, without extracting a price for using them, means that it would, all other things being equal, be more efficient for information to be produced on a nonproprietary social model, rather than on a proprietary market model.

Benkler is arguing that intellectual property regimes make for deadweight loss. Agreed. But the “release” of informational goods produced and distributed in social networks is not free; there is a cost to the user in stress, in insecurity, in the fear of exclusion, of not knowing, not keeping up, being hopelessly out of style, being obscure. The self — the individual subject — within systems of social production is fundamentally insecure and unstable, and is compelled to continue to produce information by consuming other information and goods in a social forum under conditions the require the consumption to be competitive, signifying. It can not be internal to the individual or merely gratify the individual’s needs or desires. The individual’s consumption is compelled by ontological insecurity; he must reproduce himself through information consumption, thereby establishing a public self that registers and temporarily eases the insecurity while at the same time contributing more information goods to the system. The system itself, as a whole, is a capital good for the industries (media and communications, etc.) that control the infrastructure of the social networks.

The value of social production is that can exploit that source of emotional motivation without having to provide any wage compensation.

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