Saturday, March 14, 2015

User-Generated Content

It's been heralded as an amazingly new thing that the grand new businesses of the age, Google and YouTube and Facebook, are not based on the sale of a product or service, but are streams of advertising revenue attached to user-generated content. These companies make money not because they produce anything of value, but because their users (in theory) do, and the companies' name recognition causes it to be convenient for users to go to them to locate information generated by other users. Enough name-recognition and user-generated content, and sufficient people swarm by to produce views and clicks that, at some point, are paid for by the people who buy the products (often only more layers of advertising, but that's another subject). So it's a new paradigm in business schools, communication, social psychology, etc. Instead of making widgets, selling widgets, or even using the proximity of widgets you made in order to advertise something else, you set up a big tent, other people show up and make their own widgets, other people show up to look at those widgets, and you make money thereby. How amazing. It's a bright new digital future of heretofore unexplored capitalist possibilities.

That narrative is equivalent to the serial killer pretending to be stunned when he claims his next victim. There is nothing new about user-generated content. Everything for sale is user-generated content. Remember Henry Ford, who supposedly paid his workers enough that they could buy the things they made? Same deal. Google, YouTube, and Facebook are just another variation on movies, newspapers, and the enclosure of the commons.

Take Facebook for the easiest, dumbest example. They generate ad revenue because people come to their site (at least initially) to see what their friends/family are "doing." Ergo pictures of your friend's new dog, and of everyone else's new dog, cause you, and twenty million other people that minute, to have a 0.5% chance of clicking on an ad for Susie's At-Home Dog Washing Service, for which Facebook bills the digital content provider who subcontracts with the regional ad representative who billed the credit card company who billed Susie. In short. The thing that's supposed to astound economists (and has been so astounding them ever since they decided to be astounded sometime after the internet) is that Facebook can be so big without even making stuff to draw people to the ads. They don't have to take the picture of the new dog themselves, nor hire reporters to do it, etc. How amazing! User generated content!

Facebook, though, isn't a "new business model" anymore than it was "created" by that nasty little Harvard turdling that the CIA used to front their latest citizenry database. Western wealth has always been a means of capturing user-generated content.

So, you go on Facebook's dating service to meet someone. In so doing, you generate ad revenue, directly or indirectly--not because of something Facebook did, but because you wanted to meet someone, and that someone might have a picture up, or some paragraphs about them, etc. Sounds like "user-generated content," right? Made possible only by the internet?

Bullshit. What are Facebook, and all the other plastickly-social versions of it, including the sex or religious or thoughtful ones, replacing? Simple: their real world equivalents. Bars. Clubs. Adult education annexes. What people want--what they've always wanted--is other people. Real estate developers are just material Facebooks, inventing the idea that, by putting a roof over a certain spot of land, and "owning" that land, they get to charge everyone who shows up to meet someone else. No one gives a shit about the blurry music and sweaty room, but in a world where every square inch is owned by someone, there's always the desperate hope you might meet a friend in a place that sells itself as "where you can make a friend."

Everything out there is user-generated content. Labs pay scientists comparative pittances to capture their user-generated inventions. Producers buy rights, show a film, and charge people to look at it, alone or together. States claim virtual ownership of land, levying everyone for rent and hitting farmers for usufruct, too. The middlemen are always there, sitting on their asses, collecting endless tithes from people who actually do stuff, charging them for access even to one another.

Once, we understood this just as we do now Facebook. The offense that some people now take at Facebook--the idea that this big, stupid thing has become a substitute for human interaction, and an encouragement to the worst sort of social misbehavior--was once taken at the idea of some guy getting to own "the green" or "the mall." Of course major news belongs to everybody, of course the farrier should be paid for the shoeing, of course all the young people should be able to go flirt somewhere without paying $20 at the door...and bit by bit, we lost that shock, until now, all that we have left is to be mildly thoughtful when those tiny nooks of virtuality through our browsers are doing something completely brand new by making money without doing anything useful at all.

How far in another hundred years? "Your latest bowel movement, sponsored by WipeKleen®!" Sure, it'll be annoying and offensive as you're trying to strap yourself onto the porcelain throne with a snack and a movie, but by then, we'll have forgotten about the bajillion dollars lost in the 21st century, just like how now, we take it for granted that the Whoever Family owns Wherever. And then comes the time when you take it for granted that your bowel movements cost $4.99 each (unless you want to skip the ad, in which case it's $5.99), but you're mightily offended that DreamSpace Industries® keeps slipping placement shorts into your REM-3. After all, dreams is going too far!

Aww, it's not that bad; I mean, what else you gonna do anyway? Besides, who else is gonna pay for your sleep?


  1. Yeah, Proudhon pointed this out in the most incredibly, even mind numbingly thorough and irrefutable possible way all the way back in 1840 in What is Property? (the answer: Property is theft!). Crickets. People in general don't think very hard about anything. It's quite disappointing since this particular concept really shouldn't be too hard to figure out, but of course everything is engineered so its difficult to find genuine information about anything, there's an artery clog of worse than useless, exactly the same books blocking actual learning, and everyone who has to actually know things for their job is encouraged to specialize so they don't make too many connections. It's so bizarre that humans are genuinely capable of making connections and understanding basic concepts like the emperor's obvious nakedness, and yet so few of them actually do so.

    One time I had the eye opening experience of seeing a 20 person high school classroom unanimously support human sacrifice on moral grounds after it was argued it was used in the ancient middle east to periodically conjure away intrinsic tensions in society, then after five minutes when I pointed out to them that this was 'unprogressive' and 'unhumanist' (not that I am, the most enthusiastic supporters all were, though, I was just calling out hypocrisy) they all immediately spontaneously switched positions and now opposed human sacrifice, with no transition and without realizing they had changed their positions. They all did it at the same time too, and no one called anyone else out for contradicting themselves. Only me and the teacher even realized what had just happened, and they kept on going for ten minutes about why human sacrifice was morally 'wrong'. Experiences like that make me wonder exactly what the fuck is going on inside most people's heads. It certainly isn't reason and it doesn't seem to be emotion or even basic instinct either. Maybe they're all relying on belief in cultural myths or just blindly following social patterns. I really have no idea. I've come to the conclusion that if you just say something sincerely enough most people will believe everything no matter how absurd what you say is. And if you can say it often enough to enough people and control the few dissenters with violence, you can pretty much sell any idea to a whole society. It's very amusing to try on strangers in a mall or city, but very disconcerting when you take into account the macropolitical implications.

    1. <3

      As to the general issues involved, evolution explains it in a way you might find satisfying. As to the high school class, how morbidly normal. Americans, to be sure? And just think--if you'd had tenure at the correct place, and gotten votes from those kids as part of a "study," you could publish an article advocating for the rounding up of such people into organic reprocessing camps, and all their parents would read about it in The Atlantic, nod thoughtfully, and support Hillary when she implemented the science®-backed extermination plan. It's those kinds of scenarios that help people like Hillary justify the way they act ("it's what they really wanted anyway") when lording it over commoners.

    2. I don't really get it, shouldn't natural selection promote delusions that at least help creatures survive? Or do you mean artificial selection under "civilization" where the critically thinking pro-life (in the general, anti biosphere-obliteration sense) ones often get killed if they act on their knowledge and resist in a genuinely dangerous way? That is a good explanation, but then again, not everyone is like that, many people are susceptable to being radicalized, and there are mass resistance movements from time to time (Rojava at the moment, from what I can tell, or the Zapatistas), so I feel like biological determinism is too harsh and is a great tool to convince people to despair and accept everything when even white americans occasionally do do things (even if they tend to go the way of the Weather Underground eventually and deradicalize after a decade or so, but one can dream, Bookchin seemed all right, if relatively unsuccessful in America, there are others, it does happen). What are you saying the mechanism involved is?

      You bet they were Americans. I guess that's pretty much exactly what Milgram did haha, and so many others of course. I feel like if anything we're more likely to see the people who don't like human sacrifice get rounded up for the camps for being unpatriotic or unchristian, or unprogressive, or soft on crime/terror, whatever is the flavor of the month. If America got rid of the pro human sacrifice everyday American workers, the only people to fight the wars and do the corporate jobs would be the despairing, and they aren't as motivated.

      An interesting thought experiment is, if tomorrow the federal government declared in a serious and authoritative voice that, (just for instance) every person who was currently 19, but not anyone younger and not anyone older, was very bad, bad bad bad, and it was necessary to exterminate them for 'reasons of national security', how many 19 year olds would patriotically knowingly go to their local extermination chamber (covered in American flags of course, with an energetic and attractive young nurse if possible) and do their duty? I honestly don't know the answer. They all walked into the world wars and the Iraq invasion was very popular. Perhaps I'll go around with a petition at the local mall and see how many people sign it, that will be interesting no matter what happens.

    3. The reference there was to the actual process of evolution, rather than the objectivist/capitalist version currently associated with the word. More detail forthcoming.

      For your thought experiment, Americans would surely be horrified at the idea of honestly eliminating people. It would need to be couched in some ridiculous yet smooth terminology that justified the removal of 19-year-olds. Allowing for that, of course it would work. Patriotic commercials would have a lot of them marching in there themselves; the majority would go sadly but dutifully; and, when a few holdouts tried to escape, it would be the Boston lockdown, where we all fretted but didn't actually do anything.

      And then a year later, it would be like it never happened, except on a few Facebook conspiracy threads. And when they came for the eighteen year olds, no one would blink an eye, and so on.