Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thesis 8 of 95: Better Timing

Part of the blogging project about the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto. All posts in the project can be found here.

In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.

Now, I've spent a lot of time speaking of markets, but I want to talk about the workplace, or the place of producing value, a bit more.

Value in society is never strictly material wealth. As Postone says in Time, Labor and Social Domination:
Material wealth does not mediate itself socially; where it is the dominant social form of wealth, it is "evaluated" and distributed by overt social relations— traditional social ties, relations of power, conscious decisions, considerations of needs, and so forth. The dominance of material wealth as the social form of wealth is related to an overtly social mode of mediation.
Now, when Marx speaks of value as the "socially necessary labor time" it takes to create a thing, he is saying exactly this: that the necessity of the hours of labor is social, not strictly material. Socially necessary labour time expresses a "general temporal norm resulting from the action of the producers, to which they must conform" (Postone, 1996). Workers in capitalism have to surrender and conform their productive activity to a certain form of abstract Newtonian time that is specific to capitalism.

In capitalism, man is secondary to time, in particular, abstract time. In all previous forms of society, concrete time, that is, time that is the function of events, such as the natural periodicities that humans experience as well as the doing (tasks, processes) of humans, that is, the time needed to fry a shrimp, or take a piss. Sure, precapitalist societies has different conceptions of an "hour", but in Egypt, for example, that hour was a variable that adapted itself after seasonal changes, and was grounded in the real world. Abstract time, however, is best described by Newton in Principia as "absolute, true and mathematical time [which] flows equably without relation to anything external."

This becomes important in the history of European society as abstract Newtonian time, in the late 14th century, starts to constitute the social reality of the commodity-determined form of social relations. It's not just the fact that this form of measuring time was invariable (China had abstract time and mechanical clocks without it constituting a form of social domination before capitalism) , its that it was incorprated into the social organization of time. It is fairly significant that in the Paris commune, the people were shooting at the clocks, as Walter Benjamin pointed out. People have been subjugated, by historical and social conditions, to the clock, or abstract labor time. Confining human productive activity into people who are regulated in time, required a huge deal of coercion and repression. It is this regime of social dominance through time we think is so natural, the regime of wage slavery.

Now, as long as technology aligns to this form of time organization, and the value creation of socially necessary labor hours, capitalism is fine. With the internet though, time has started acting differently. Human activity his in the process of being liberated from the general social time, in a way that the commodity market could never do.

The commodity market requires a certain form of production, that relies heavily on an inflexible, invariable form of time management. The concrete activities are limited by the abstract laws of temporality. The conversational market of the internet, however, does not rely on this form temporality. I can start a conversation whenever, with whoever, in whatever time-zone they happen to be, provided we both have concrete possibilities such as being awake or being close to a device that has the internet.

I wouldn't say, as the thesis say, that employees ARE speaking in a powerful new way. Rather, the possibility of speaking in a powerful new way is there, but not yet realized. More and more of the work day is spent doing nothing, and since emailing/social networking/other forms of communicating has in a sense liberated people from time and space, the point of being in a place for 8 hours when you could just as easily be in bed sending and responding to emails whenever you have the time instead of just dealing with things when they need to be dealt with. In the new form of communication, there is liberatory potential. But as socially necessary labor hours remain the main form of value, rather than this new form of conversational value that can lead to better and freer ways of living, that potential is trapped in our own, old, value system.

Maybe, to realize these powerful ways of communicating, employees need to seize to be employees, but something else. Independent co-producers that manage their own time, to the extent that it is possible. To do this, they need to transcend the value system of abstract time. Is the conversational market capable of accomplishing this? Not on its own, but it sure is going to be a huge part of it.

See you soon, Thesis 9

Let me know if you did and I can maybe reward you in a way.

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