In The World of Goods Douglas and Isherwood develop the idea of “linkage” from international-trade economics in a consumption context. Rather than use a “quantity of goods” perspective to determine poverty, one must look instead at interconnectedness — can the consumer “operate a coherent information system by using marking services”? Or are the markers dictated to the consumer, with many markers out of their grasp?

How does online consumption affect this? Information goods become cheaper and easier to consume in some ways, but the information system becomes more incoherent as the flow of information exponentially expands. The paradox results of having more information than ever but less control over what it all signifies. The meanings of the markers become more subject to being determined by power differentials, as they don’t anchor themselves over any stretch of time. The flux of meaning leaves everyone having to make recourse to some credible external source of judgment to decide meaning in a given moment — class supplies the credibility in such cases?

Social networks obviously increase the volume of linkages, making social connections tangible and manipulatable to those who don’t necessary belong to the network. But this tangibility seems to degrade the quality of links, dilute them, overwhelm the channels that had been reliable in earlier social formations. Instead we lose trusted sources through greater interconnection, as we see those sources become co-opted and compromised or even impersonated at different moments online, as identities are hijacked for automated marking pitches or people self-promote to groups who would not have been exposed to that before.

Feeling tired, and not making much sense here perhaps. The key idea from Douglas and Isherwood is their contention that consumer motivation stems from wanting “to continue to choose rationally in an intelligible world,” that they want to “control an expanding information system.” Social networks, automated online recommendations, etc., offer an unfamiliar sort of control, perhaps, supplying reasonable options via filtering but depriving consumers from an overhead view of the system that is gratifying — instead we are lost in the code, in the morass of data, from which automated recommendations offer us a life line.

“Ethnography suggests that competition to acquire goods in the information class will generate high admission barriers and efficient techniques of exclusion…. COnsumers will tend to create exclusive inner circles controlling access to a certain kind of information.” Information, then, is not wanting to be free; online sociality will facilitate new ways to control the access. That is where moeny will be made, and will also simultaneously be the means to reproduce the class structure of capitalism in an information-network economy. These barriers that will me technologically mediated may be more painful when they are not dependent on money but are meted out in terms of online identity.


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