“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
When Marx wrote the great line above he was describing the class struggle between the proletariat and bourgious for control of the means of production; he was describing capitalism and the paradoxical desire for continual change and improvement.
For Marx capitalism is a disruptive historical event that shatters existing social structures and illusions. Life is chaotic and fleeting. To survive, one must face up to the ‘reality’ of the world and ones place in it. You either have access to incredible wealth and resources by controlling the means of production or you earn a wage.
Whether you agree with the labour dialectic and historical materialism I think the idea of owning the means of production has particular relevance for how the Internet has changed cultural production.
That this modest blog can be easily published and made available to anyone foolish enough to read it is a great example of the liberalisation of cultural production. With the Internet, anyone with access to the Internet via a computer or mobile phone can publish stuff; anything they like.
Traditionally, the means, if you like, of cultural production have been owned and controlled by institutions and agitators. Institutions like the church, the media, corporations, and governments had the money and influence to publish and promote using newspapers, pamphlets, TV, radio and movies. Having exclusive access to the only mass communication tools is a very effective way of control and manipulation. The average punter was restricted to writing the odd letter to the paper, standing on a soapbox like a freak, publishing their own pamphlets, or calling the local radio station. The relationship was very much a passive relationship with the institutions calling the shots.
Without being too dramatic, the Internet changed the whole model. Suddenly
consumers could produce and distribute their own content on their own terms. A small business could be as visible as a large multi-national. The solid structure of cultural production had indeed melted into the air. This has caused much angst for traditional owners of the means of cultural production. Profits have been eroded as advertising has migrated online.
During the recent election protests in Iran, foreign journalists were expelled or restricted to their hotels. All information about the protests, some wildly inaccurate, came from Twitter and YouTube. This was then published by the traditional media.
Whilst there is much published on the Internet that is tabloid, inaccurate, racist, stupid, fanciful and grotesque the revolution means that previously passive consumers now have a voice.
I am positive that Marx was more into the labour dialectic than the digital dialectice but he would be impressed by the chaos and profanity ensuing from folks on the Internet finding their voices.