[Week eleven blog post].
The arguments of Wark (2004) and Gregg (2011) point to a crossroads for global equality, suggesting the way in which technology may undermine the capitalist strata.
According to Wark, “What makes life differ in one age after the next is the application of new modes of abstraction (my italics) to the task of wresting freedom form necessity” (par. 009).
But what does it mean ‘to abstract’?
“To abstract,” Wark says, “is to construct a plane upon which otherwise different and unrelated matters may be brought into many possible relations” (par. 008).
There is a “hacker class”, according to Wark that is in the habit of abstracting.Simply put, the “hacker class” is a class that “create new worlds” by bringing “new things” into the existing one. A ‘hacker’ is not (necessarily) a computer geek – they could be anything from a poet, to a mathematician, musician or coder – so long as they bring new ideas into the world on the “plane” of abstraction, where concepts, ideas and materials ferment to produce new innovations (pars 002-004).
The abstractions of the ‘hacker class’ are, as with all things under a capitalist system, “mortgaged to others” (Wark, 2004, par. 004) but technology may change that.
Technological developments have accelerated the rate of abstraction to the point where the world is free of “necessity” (Wark, 2004, par 11). Yet “again and again, a ruling class arises that controls the surplus over bare necessity and enforces new necessities on those peoples who produce this very means of escaping necessity [abstraction]” (Wark, 2004, par. 10).
This is the exponentially growing model of capitalism that yokes the masses under the ruling class, and empowers them to determine the terms of the “mortgage”.
Wark identifies the emergent “vectoralist” class as an emerging ruling class. It “owns the means of realising the value of abstractions” (2004, par 21). That is, despite the now common recognition of intellectual property – which itself is rooted in an abstract concept – as a form of ‘property’, the developing “vectoralist” class “wages an intensive struggle to dispossess hackers of their intellectual property” through patents and copyright acquisition. The ability to “produce” things and outcomes from ideas is still connected to the abstractor’s material needs.
In a digital age, though, technological developments have nearly tipped the equilibrium in favour of abstraction not for the necessities of survival but some strata not tied to “regressive class interests” (Wark, 2004, par. 11). In the developed world, Gregg (2011) argues that these technologies have actually led to mid-rank employees being expected to do the work of learning new technologies in their own time.
This has basically pushed up the workload of the average employee, who has been expected to utilise technologies to advance business’ interests, without recognition that workloads have gone up as a result, forcing employees to spend large amounts of time learning new skills (Gregg, 2011).
Gregg suggests that it is a certain type of worker who’s left behind by the need to adapt to new technologies – the older and those who take a break for things like maternity leave are cited as likely victims (2011, p. 111-112).
What happens when those with the most urgent need to ‘hack’ a new ‘world’ – those in the ‘third’ world, that is – are offered an even slightly comparable access to technology (through work or otherwise)?
Walk argues that “abstraction is always an abstraction of nature” and through processes of production humanity “comes to take the environment it produces to be natural” (2004, par. 016).
The exponentially increasing number of actors engaging with new opportunities for abstraction in the information age, coupled with the actual necessity to ‘hack’ a new world, could assault the ruling class with attempts to use intellectual property for a common good, overwhelming their ability to control the uses of new ideas and technologies.
The sheer size of the third world population – and the fact that many of them are young, a factor cited by Gregg as important to adeptness with technology – may snub out the emerging vectoralist class.
The ‘information age’ is also a communication age, and the new ubiquity of publishing opportunities – via platforms like wordpress, youtube, and twitter – could foster a communication culture that popularises the notion that by abstracting collectively the ability of the vectoralist class to render subservient those coming up with the ideas that the dominant classes turn into capital could be undermined.
The prerequisite analytical understanding of capitalist systems needed to overthrow them, may emerge from the vectoralists’ early efforts at monetising the abstractions of the ‘hacker’ class.
YouTube, WordPress, Twitter and other platforms have the potential to enable the masses to access education, and ideas. In short, the early efforts of the vectoralists give them the most massive underclass – the third world – the tools to join Wark’s “hacker class”.
Gregg, Melissa (2011) ‘Know your product: Online Branding and the Evacuation of Friendship’ in Work’s Intimacy Cambridge: Polity: 102-118.
Guantlett, David (2013) ’David Gauntlett on making at Maker Faire Rome, October 2013’, YouTube, 1 November, accessed 20 October 2014: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjU_ZbpzLAo>.
Guillaud, Hubert (2010) ‘What is implied by living in a world of flow?’, Truthout, January 6, accessed 20 October 2014: <http://www.truthout.org/what-implied-living-a-world-flow56203>.
Wark, McKenzie (2004) ‘Abstraction’ in A Hacker Manifesto Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press: paragraphs 001-023.