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Technologies of Sin & Salvation

Chapter One


But so long as the market retains its transcendent status in liberal political theory, the telos of a more just and equitable social order will remain virtual, and the experience of a universal subjectivity will remain the sole province of those who can afford it.

Grant Kester, Learning from Aesthetics

As long as automated capitalist production maintains its viability through innovation, it creates new structures which expand the boundaries of both human potential and human misery.

Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Robots & Capitalism

Amidst the massive restructuring and move to virtual arrangements, a void has emerged.

Crandall & Wallace, The Virtual Corporation

IN DESIGNING NEW TECHNOLOGIES, we design ourselves anew — for to be human is to be technological. When we create new information and communications technologies, we create new technologies of meaning. And, because these technologies of meaning have become the increasingly dominant means of creating value in today's perpetual innovation economy, they are directly implicated in the ongoing transformation of both capital value and notions of human worth. This chapter addresses this tensive relationship between imminent meaning and transcendent value, describing ways in which a 200 year transformation of capital which began with the Industrial Revolution may now finally offer the opportunity to deconstruct this dialectic into what Pierre Levy has described as a genuine "economy of human qualities." That is, in the vernacular of this study, an "eco-cognitive political economy."

____Because of the ever more penetrating and fluid relationship being forged between imminent human creativity and the transcendent authority of global capital, it is all the more crucial that the work of designing and assessing digital network technologies be public, transparent and subject to informed deliberation. It is equally important that those designing and implementing such technologies be empowered with practical methods for shaping these external neural networks in ways which will ameliorate rather than magnify the epistemological and cognitive errors to which human beings have proven uniquely susceptible. For, though the most fundamental dynamics of human virtuality and embodiment may have changed little since the beginning of human cognitive history, cast in the fresh light of contemporary technological capabilities and environmental imperatives, the stakes have come to be extraordinarily high-both in terms of the potential impacts upon our most private immediate and embodied experience, as well as upon the ultimate compatibility of our technologies with our only habitat.

____When the technologies of capital and thermodynamics converged just two centuries ago in the Industrial Revolution, they sparked a period of accelerating political economic transformation which-despite recent works proclaiming the end of history and political economy-shows no signs of diminished vitality or force. Indeed, it appears clear that the incipient synergies of capital and machine began just a few decades ago to more rapidly evolve into today's perpetual innovation economy. This latest political economic transmogrification has taken capital beyond the privatization of natural spaces and resources, beyond the mechanical manufacture of material goods, beyond even the digital encoding of information, into the dimension of human subjectivity, embodied affect, soul.

____This transformation can be seen statistically in the phenomenal growth in recent years of the entertainment and media industry, the rapid shift to global markets, as well as the accelerating "weightlessness" of major national economies. Between 1997 and 2001, the global entertainment and media industry expanded from US$8.5 billion to US$1.1 trillion in total revenues. To put this into some perspective, the global petroleum market last year saw revenues of about US$1.2 trillion, a figure largely unchanged from the previous year. By 2006, the global entertainment and media market is forecast to grow to US$1.4 (PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2001). Earlier comparative figures are difficult to ascertain for the content industry, largely because many sectors simply did not exist prior to the mid-1990s. For example, gaming and interactive entertainment, which expanded a remarkable 43 percent from US$6.6 to US$9.4 billion between 2000 and 2001, became a major factor in the market only over the past several years, and yet last year had already eclipsed the film industry in total annual revenues. Secondly, the content industry has rapidly transformed from a disparate and diverse universe of regional and national businesses to a global market now dominated by nine transnational corporations; AOL Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, Sony, TCI, Universal and NBC. Further, until 1997, the two largest, AOL Time Warner and Disney, derived only 15 percent of total revenues from international sales. Today, that figure is estimated to have grown to between 35 and 40 percent. Meaning has quickly become a global enterprise. Finally, a study in 2001 by the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation quantified the trend toward a "weightless" economy which increasingly generates value through virtual products such as media content and program code. From 1977 (the first year for which reliable data was available) and 2000, the total weight of all American goods and services plateaued at roughly 1 trillion pounds, while its adjusted dollar value doubled. Alan Greenspan has described this phenomenon as the key indicator of an emerging economic paradigm shift (2001).

____Central to this continued capital transformation has been the accelerating schematization and mapping of previously immeasurable, uncharted regions of virtual and natural dimensions. In the final years of the 20th century, genes and memes, the building blocks of human embodiment, cognition and culture, were rapidly encoded for absorption into the newly digital circuits of the global marketplace (Dawkins 1990). Despite popular allusions throughout the 1990s to humankind's impending ascendance to the "pearly gates of cyberspace," the lasting impact of the developments of the past several decades is more likely to be in the convergence of the new capital, digital, social and biological technologies, not only recasting each technology through a synergy with the others, but also in shifting evolutionary trajectories for both the human subject and its environment. For, as Dewey argued, all technological change-indeed all adaptive action-necessarily leads to corresponding changes in both the organism and the environment. In his 1938 treatise, Logic: the Theory of Inquiry, Dewey identified "the continuum of inquiry," defining inquiry as "the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole" (Dewey 1938, 104-105) He argued that an "indeterminate situation" is one in which the balance between organism and environment is disturbed, stimulating the organism to restore the balance, and in the process reconstituting both itself and its environment. This was, of course, an early articulation of what has come to be known as "social constructivism" in political economics, and "enaction" in the field of cognitive science. These crucial, complementary insights are of particular importance in understanding the growing complexity of interaction between the human organism and its contemporary environment through emergent technologies of value and meaning.

____In The Society of Mind, Minsky identified the human cognitive operations now being externalized in our global, digital networks of value meaning. Today, Minsky's description serves particularly well to illustrate our contemporary difficulty in understanding the complex, self-modifying processes of a perpetual innovation Affect Economy.

Why are [these] processes so hard to classify? In earlier times, we could usually judge machines and processes by how they transformed raw materials into finished products. But it makes no sense to speak of brains as though they manufacture thoughts the way factories make cars. The difference is that brains use processes that change themselves-and this means we cannot separate such processes from the products they produce. In particular, brains make memories, which change the ways we'll subsequently think. The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves. Because the whole idea of self-modifying processes is new to our experience, we cannot yet trust our commonsense judgment about such matters (1984, 99).

____What Minsky says of the internal neural network of the brain applies as well to the networked economy. For it is this self-modifying, self-transformative capacity which has been established over the past three decades as the principle driving force in this economic paradigm. Innovation is far more than a mere trend, but represents this increasingly dominant self-modifying process of endless innovation for generating both value and meaning in the global political economy today.

____The explosion of broad-based technological schematization in the late 20th century further enabled-and in many instances necessitated-the rapid dissolution of barriers between once disparate academic disciplines and political-economic enterprise, as well as giving rise to altogether novel forms of social and capital networks. One industry in which this phenomenon was particularly evident, for example, was in the swift consolidation of previously distinct media into global purveyors and distributors of digital "content," including, for example the AOL Time Warner, Disney and Murdoch conglomerates. Invoking two of the most potent themes of the day, executives announcing the formation of the world's largest new media corporation spoke of injecting "Internet DNA" throughout the venerable Time Warner Corporation. Though the language was certainly intended as loosely and dramatically metaphorical, the conceptual blend of digital and biological technologies it conjures continues to be literalized in rapidly growing industries such as bio-informatics. Much innovative work in academe, too, occurred in compelling new interdisciplinary syntheses of traditionally discrete fields of study, often spurred by these merging networks of political economic activity. As noted earlier, such research particularly relevant to this study has been, for example, Mathew Rabin's seminal work in bridging psychology and economics, giving rise to the compelling new insights of behavioral finance. Robert McNeil's groundbreaking synthesis in environmental history details the effects of successive technological and political economic transitions on the natural environment. The argument presented in this chapter also owes much to Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt's penetrating analyses of the potentialities for human experience engendered in this convergence of capital, digital and biological forces within what they term the new "Empire" of the global political economy.

____Far less publicly recognized and vetted, however, has been the inception and maturation of what Tessa Morris-Suzuki first termed the "perpetual innovation economy," the core dynamic now driving the accelerating global schematization and convergence described above. In this chapter, I argue that this emergent political economic paradigm relies to an unprecedented degree on a powerfully tensive and problematic relationship between transcendent capital value and imminent human value and meaning, yet which holds out the possibility of purposefully evolving our notions of both capital value and human worth. This chapter's major purpose will be to survey and distill from a broad array of interdisciplinary analyses of these present-day political economic transformations in order to garner important touchstones in defining a set of theoretical parameters and principles for the design of successful eco-cognitive technologies, and provide direction to the corresponding method of researching and designing information and communications technologies to be presented in Part II.

. . .

One need not travel too far back in time for evidence of how rapidly capital's form and value have been progressively transformed through successive phases of Western political economy. It was as recently as the mid-17th Century when Europe's first banks were established in England to safeguard the nation's gold from an avaricious King Charles I. It was then in 1776, as the principles of the American experiment were being formulated, when Adam Smith first observed that the state's source of wealth and power had come to reside in its ongoing production of goods rather than its stockpiles of precious metals and gems. (Solomon, 1997, 20). And less than a century later, Marx presented in Grundisse his initial proof of the need for "living labor" in the suddenly and increasingly mechanized workplace, presenting that surplus value could not be sustained through the "dead labor" of mechanistic production alone. Specifically, he argued that the source of capital's value was necessarily derived from individuals doing labor, who must then reinvest their capital earnings into these and other products in order to propel the money-commodity-money (M-C-M) cycle through which the capitalist economy sustained itself. In short, Marx showed that the machine alone was incapable of creating and sustaining surplus value. And, though his analysis was framed within the then current physics of thermodynamics, his foundational thesis has withstood scrutiny within changing techno-scientific contexts up to and including the current quantum, digital age (Caffentzis 1997, Carchedi 1997, Lerner 1990, Schiller 1994). Marx was also clearly aware, even at that early juncture, of the false contradistinction of man and machine in the marketplace. As he noted in Capital:

It took both time and experience before the workers learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital, and therefore to transfer their attacks from the material instruments of production to the form of society which utilizes these instruments (1976, 554-555).

____In fact, as much as it is still widely misunderstood and misrepresented, Marx's deconstruction of the man|machine dialectic was equally deft and devastating. For, beyond his exhaustive statistical analyses, Marx's arguments were generally deeply rooted in the core existential fact of human alienation. This crucial dimension to Marx's research and writings was initially inspired by Hegel's description of entfremdung, alienation or estrangement.

____In his Philosophy of History, Hegel had earlier noted that, "What the mind really strives for is the realization of its notion; but in doing so it hides that goal from its vision and is proud and well satisfied in this alienation from its essence." Hegel's entfremdung was, in its essence, an account of the negative existential repercussions of virtualizing technologies of meaning, which had been described rather differently by Johanne Eckhart several centuries earlier. "When the soul wishes to experience something new," Eckhart observed, "she throws a vision of the experience out before her and enters into her own image." These statements by Hegel and Eckhart may be two of the West's earliest clear articulations of that human capacity for creative, figurative transformation which has since come to lie at the heart of today's political economy. Eckhart's observation is hopeful, even naïve. Hegel's formulation, framed several centuries later within the context of the Industrial Revolution, is far less optimistic. During the time when Hegel wrote his cautionary description of alienation, it would have been nearly impossible to be unaware of the tendency for "imagination" to manifest in the form of industrial virtualities, a systems world within which value and meaning were increasingly alien to the human touch.

____Like Hegel, Marx also viewed technologies-whether linguistic, social or material-with a sense of caution. It was in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts where he most explicitly warned against either idolizing or demonizing human constructs, of projecting them into the transcendent realms of good or evil-whether in the form of dualistic epistemologies or religious dogma.

____Marx and Hegel's Modernist analyses of alienation are the West's earliest careful observations of the negative, virtualizing dynamics within the cycle of figurative transformation and technological schematization. In the 20th Century, we find analogous postmodern interpretations in the writings of scholars such as Jean Beaudrillard and Michel Foucault. The essential difference, however, lies in the Modern emphasis on the alienating impacts of the virtualization of value in the industrial economy, and the Postmodern fascination with the disorienting and vertiginous effects of the virtualization of meaning in the current political economy. There is also, of course, a difference of prescription. Where Marx and Engels urged the proletariat's re-appropriation of the means of production as their antidote to the industrial virtualization of value, the postmodernists appear to offer the deconstruction of Western dialectic and logic as their alternative to remaining entangled in the untethered "hyperreality" of transcendent networks of meaning-a method which, as I will show, presents some uncanny parallels to the Zen Buddhist use of their koans in breaking through constraining cognitive biases. Though it is unclear whether this is the intended effect of the postmodern theorists' syntactic paroxysms or simply the inevitable consequence of epistemological despair.

____But what actually happens to the condition of alienation-that is, the virtual void between imminent experience and transcendent authority-as human and machine enter an era of digital neural networks and bio-informatics? The field of historical and contemporary analysis offers the most promising insights into this question remains that of human labor-which is implicit today in the full cycle of production and consumption. This is, after all, the active plane upon which the individual has direct engagement with the natural and built environment, inevitably culminating in the formation of identity and humanity itself. Labor, in this broad sense, is human life giving rise to and signifying itself.

____It has become common to view the succession of political-economic paradigms since the Middle Ages in several distinct phases, each denoted by its primary mode of labor and production: a first paradigm in which agriculture and the mining of resources dominated the economy, a second defined by the manufacture of durable goods, and a third paradigm in which services and communications represent the vanguard of economic production and the creation of value. Attending each succeeding political-economic paradigm have been distinctly new forms of human labor and the expansion of capital privatization and commoditization into new areas of human exchange and experience. The gradual expansion of economies driven primarily by agriculture and resource extraction required the progressive private appropriation of once vast, shared geographical spaces. During the 18th and 19th centuries, as the locus of capital growth accelerated toward urban manufacturing centers, the new forms of economic production necessitated new forms of closely regulated labor and the progressive appropriation of social time and space. Material and social technologies representative of this paradigm include machines and management methods built upon what Pierre Levy has described as the "molar" science of thermodynamics. These served as the dominant engines of industrial age economic growth up through the late 20th century, mining units of quantifiable labor from the worker, who, through production and consumption, became subject to these new sociotechnical objects and dominant mechanistic metaphors in the existential narrative of that day.

In the early 20th century, Musil noted this passage of humanity from the agricultural paradigm to life in the social factory.
There was a time when people grew naturally into the conditions they found waiting for them and that was a very sound way of becoming oneself. But nowadays, with all this shaking up of things, when everything is detached from the soil it grew in, even where the production of soul is concerned one really ought, as it where, to replace the traditional handicrafts by the sort of intelligence that goes with the machine and the factory (in Hardt, 2001, 2).

The cognitive and affective transformations which Musil described in the lives and identities of those immersed in this Industrial Revolution also demanded that Western philosophers and other scholars turn their collective efforts to articulating new epistemologies capable of taking account of these new ontological realities. The existential ruptures apparent throughout Europe at that time demanded fresh conceptions of value and meaning, which are explored in fuller detail in Chapter Five.

____Finally, in the closing decades of the 20th century, a new economic paradigm emerged which is characterized by perpetual figurative transformations, entailing the intensified negotiation and creation of new human subjectivities, identities and desires. In this nascent paradigm, schematizing and commoditizing embodied affect has come to represent the vanguard of economic development and expansion, a phenomenon increasingly manifest in what Hardt and Negri have referred to as the Affect Economy (Hardt, 1999; Hardt & Negri, 2000), and which Rolf Jensen refers to as the Dream Society (Jensen 1999), a political economic paradigm dominated by value and meaning conveyed through mythical narrative form rather than through information. As Jensen puts it,

The days of the Information Society are numbered…. The agricultural society originated 10,000 years ago, the industrial society between 200 and 100 years ago, the information-based society 20 years ago. Who knows how many more years the logic and economics of the Information Society will last? … The Information Society will render itself obsolete through automation, abolishing the very same jobs it created. The inherent logic of the Information Society remains unchanged: replacing humans with machines, letting the machines do the work. This is reflected in the three waves of the electronics industry. The first wave was hardware. The second wave was software…. The third will be content; that is, profit will be generated by the product itself, not by the instrument conveying it to the consumer (3).

____With each paradigm shift, new capacities for technological schematization have enabled capital valuation in the progressive encoding and formatting of new areas of cognition, culture and biology. Caffeintz has described, for example, the process of genetic mapping as prerequisite to capital's privatization and effective commoditization of plant and animal life. Agribusiness would be incapable of purchasing and patenting biological organisms without the schematic encoding of these life forms by biologists and geneticists. The pharmaceutical industry would similarly be incapable of owning legal rights to molecular compounds without the schematization and replication enabled by their scientists in research and development. There is a history of reciprocity between Western instrumental science and the mechanisms of capital. But, again, this relationship is dynamic. The ontogenesis of value and meaning is created in a complete, unending cycle of figurative transformation and technological schematization and replication which then provides new platforms and potentialities from which fresh transformations may be projected. Capital's goal must therefore be to encompass this entire, generative cycle of human value and meaning.

____Since the early 1980s, a broad array of economic analyses identified pervasive and profound economic changes driven first by the mechanistic automation familiar to Musil and his contemporaries, and later by the powerful synergy of these traditional forms of automation and the newer forms of ICTs (Davis 1997). Anticipating the effects of Herbert Weiner's early theoretical work in cybernetics, Bagrit in 1964 coined the term 'cybernation' to describe his vision of industrial automation combined with complex feedback control systems-an early theoretical synthesis which would eventually manifest in today's digital marketplace (Huhtama 1997). Since that time, though the term has fallen somewhat out of vogue, the accelerating trend toward cybernation-that is, digital formatting, encoding, automation and replication-has impacted the macro-economy, as well as individual and institutional realities, in a multitude of familiar and well-documented ways. These include the previously mentioned trends toward convergence, a global economy increasingly reliant on accelerated, ongoing innovation, as well as the opening of a "virtual void" in human, living labor described below. Yet it was in Tessa Morris-Suzuki's groundbreaking analyses of the Japanese economy of the 1980s where the fundamental new dynamics of value formation were initially elucidated. In essence, Morris-Suzuki proposed that, in an environment of accelerating electronic automation and ever-advancing technologies of reproduction, capital's value must inevitably and increasingly flow from the creative human production of new knowledge, "content"-or, more properly, meaning (1984, 1986).

____Developments over the past decade and a half, the birth of the now ubiquitous "knowledge worker," and subsequent research, have since more than borne out Morris-Suzuki's early observations of these digital dynamics. For example, one major study conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers over a two-year period and covering 800 businesses worldwide, quantified "the proven link between innovation and growth." Among its other findings, the study showed that companies which generate 80 percent of revenue from new products typically double their market capitalization in a five-year period. Innovation-from process reengineering to new product design-was revealed to be directly proportional to revenue growth. The technology sector, together with entertainment and media businesses, ranked highest in spawning growth through innovation, launching an average of 30 new products and services each year (PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2002). In popular business and management literature, this phenomenon is most generally understood and described simply as the quickening pace of change. But it is a great deal more than this, involving transformations in the essential formulation of the human subject and its built and natural environments. In responding to Kester's proposition in the epigram at the top this chapter that capital be recognized as an immediate and imminent human construct, Morris-Suzuki's analysis suggests that, even as the market proceeds down the path of global saturation, in an economy propelled by innovation, capital is simultaneously and irrevocably reliant upon the human individual's embodied subjectivity and creative capacity for its essential value. It is important this point be understood. For, ultimately, this ongoing convergence of capital, digital, social and biological elucidates and supports Marx's very early contention that the commonly perceived contradiction of man and machine in political economics is premised on an altogether false separation of that which is human and that which is technological.

____Perhaps no other corporation has embodied this dynamic over the past decade as effectively as Disney. The Disney Corporation has built itself on innovation and built its unique brand on the power of perpetually innovated narrative content. As CEO Michael Eisner said in the company's 1996 annual report, "It is about creating change before it creates you," adding that roughly half of Disney's growth during the past 10 years has been generated by business that did not exist in 1985 (Jensen 1999, 9).

____A second macro-phenomenon closely related to this shift toward perpetual innovation in the Affect Economy has been the steady hollowing out of national and regional economies over the past several decades and the gradual expansion of the structural unemployment which has always been a characteristic of capitalist societies. This hollowing phenomenon has been shown to manifest itself in an accelerating trend in labor migrating toward either end of the income spectrum. As virtual arrangements have increasingly freed capital from the need for mid-level information workers, labor has become ever more concentrated in high-level management positions on one hand and low-level service functions on the other. This has in turn led to a rapidly growing pool of superfluous yet educated human labor, representing today's unemployed, underemployed and all those confronted with increasingly fluid employment conditions. Within today's organizations this has led to a fundamental redefinition of the corporate structure and of employment practices such that only those individuals offering specific core and supportive competencies now secure the long-term social contracts once a staple of pre-digital economic practice. A growing "center" of employment is increasingly rendered either superfluous through technological innovation or fully contingent upon immediate-term market dynamics. In her analyses of historical and contemporary labor trends, Juliet Schor has described this phenomenon as an extreme "polarization" of the global workforce, a trend highlighted by a growing disparity in salaries-and valuations-of labor on either end of the employment spectrum. For the year 2000, Businessweek calculated that cash compensation alone for CEOs at 365 top U.S. companies jumped 18 percent during a time when shareholder values were plummeting. At that time, annual compensation awarded to the country's leading business executives already exceeded the salaries of their lowest-ranking employees by a ratio of 400 to 1. Crandall and Wallace, among other analysts, point to this phenomenon, this "void" born of "the transition to virtual arrangements," as "the single most important factor that will challenge our economy in the next decade" (1998, 9).

____Efforts to enframe and interpret the transformations implied by these paradoxical dynamics have been as myriad and partially formed as one would expect in such a moment of technological and political-economic flux. Business analysts frequently address the quickening pace of change while failing to speak to the tectonic political economic shifts described by Morris-Suzuki which have given rise to this quest for "the next new thing." Economists frequently demarcate and debate the pros and cons of a global economy enabled by capital's increasingly virtual and volatile character while seldom delving into what these transformations may mean to the experience of being human and laboring within this new paradigm. The most compelling research into the social and psychological impacts of new digital media have generally stopped short of incorporating the evolving dynamics of capital into their analyses. Yet there are those, such as Katherine Hayles, Mathew Hardt and Antonio Negri, who challenge us to restructure the parameters of theory and method around an integral, unified space of embodiment, affect and cognition, of information and materiality-even as the limitations of our traditional social epistemologies are being revealed by the dawning light of an emergent political economic paradigm.

____ While the market's transcendent status may well be necessary to its continued viability in capital's present form, it is equally clear that the dynamics of a perpetual innovation economy demand new, extruded communications technologies capable of invigorating the production of figurative innovation. Such networks of collective innovation must be capable of empowering and articulating the full multi-dimensionality of the human individual's affective, embodied experience and labor. And such networks, in their integral aesthetic nature, must-by definition-counter the causes and effects of that condition of alienation currently required to maintain capital's transcendent status. In other words, a transcendent virtuality in which value and meaning are measured and commodified in a global network of capital is ultimately antithetical to an imminent reality in which value and meaning are generated through embodied, human figurative transformation. Such, I believe, is the emerging tensive paradox at the core of the perpetual innovation-or affect-economy. This is not another version of "automated Marxism," but rather represents an ongoing, qualitative shift in the relationship of human meaning to capital value. For, as Gregory Bateson has argued, if meaning resides in patterns of human cognition and experience, it is clear that the source of capital's value increasingly lies in the innovation of meaning-that is, in an ongoing cycle of self-modifying patterns and processes, enabling new technological schematizations, which enable new figurative transformations, ad infinitum. The transformative dynamic involved in this perpetual innovation of fresh value and meaning lies beyond reason and replication, beyond the immediate economics of corporate efficiencies which have served capital so well for so long, and beyond the epistemological confines of Platonic dualisms and dialectics which have served the West for much longer still. Capital value increasingly lies rather in the vast, uncharted and untapped meanings which coalesce only in the living presence of physical human affect, identity and desire.

____ Convergent evidence representing a growing diversity of voices from a range of disciplines and political-economic viewpoints support the view that contemporary ICT networks represent an ongoing externalization of what has until very recently been this internal feature of human cognition. Until now, the human individual has possessed the unique ability to use imbedded material, linguistic and social technologies to imaginatively project modifications as well as altogether novel schemas of value and meaning. Today, the fundamental work of ICT developers is thus to create external digital networks with the collective transformative capacity of the previously unique internal capacities of the human subject. We thus enter a political economic model characterized by what Minsky, as we have seen, identified as complex "self-modifying processes."

____ For all of these reasons, it has increasingly become the view of observers from all points along the political spectrum that the interplay of these technological and political-economic dynamics is generating the conditions for a necessary and accelerating transformation of capital into as yet unimagined forms and into unexplored terrain. In a process of perpetual innovation, capital will seek to schematize, format and encode new and ancient dimensions of experience, generating, as Morris-Suzuki noted, novel "structures which expand the boundaries of both human potential and human misery." As capital continually seeks competitive advantage by freeing itself from the costs and constraints of embodied human labor and other physical constraints which keep it tethered to physicality and unable to transcend into pure virtuality, the question becomes: How is capital value to be generated within regional and global economies increasingly marked by a virtual absence of that same living labor-as well as the ongoing diminishment of the physical environment? The complex of technologies which comprise capital must continue to evolve-with or without human understanding and direction-in order to resolve this core paradox and problematic. As Levy has noted, this ambiguous relationship of embodied production (and reproduction) with capital and digital technologies is precipitously driving the "Darwinian machines" which are today's corporate entities (1998, 130-135) to extend themselves beyond the traditional plane of analytic dialectical method. The new emphasis is on "user experience" and what Seeley-Brown has described as "the social life of information." What many contemporary observers have tended to overlook, however, is that capital is increasingly beholden to human beings for certain peculiar human capacities-for the social organization of that vast dimension of human experience which lies beyond measure and reason, for creative innovation, and most importantly for the aesthetic integration of the life world and the systems world (that is, new meanings and technological replication) from which capital derives its value. Marx's early vision becomes realized in ways he could not have foreseen. The means of production are, in this important sense, in the workers' hands-or rather in their uniquely human capacity for innovative production.

____ When perpetual innovation shapes the competitive business landscape, the development of more advanced innovation-enabling technologies becomes the priority within every capital-driven organization. As Hirschberg notes, "Business begins with an idea. And as never before, its growth, stability and ultimate success depend upon innovation and a continuing flow of imaginative thought" (2000, 157). In their important work, The Knowledge Creating Company, Nonaka and Takeuchi provide valuable cross-cultural account of this now well-established imperative toward the innovation of knowledge and meaning as the key to value creation. Their work provides a rare analysis of the creative process within the Japanese organizational context set against a careful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of traditional Western conceptions of knowledge and meaning. Beyond their incisive survey of contemporary methods of generating new knowledge and new value within companies both in Japan and in the West, their work also suggests a shift toward metaphor and conceptual blending which coincides extremely well with the most recent advances in the cognitive sciences-and is in line with the suggested methodology presented here. I will turn again to Nonaka and Takeuchi's important work in my discussion of method in Chapter Five.

____ As these and many other business texts on the subject attest, on such a dynamic competitive terrain, the imperative for every executive, brand manager or information technology professional becomes the development of more effective self-modifying systems and processes, which today translates to more fully integrative information and communication systems-both for corporate use and for the market. The cumulative creativity of these legions of virtual innovators, and the resources of the largest and most advanced institutions in the world, are today bent toward developing new eco-cognitive technologies to more effectively mine that essential human value of productive innovation. Such eco-cognitive technologies range from mobile computing and connectivity devices for the internal sales force, to corporate communications portals, to new techniques and media technologies for use in brand management. Market analysts laud Dell for its innovative use of ICTs in supply chain and inventory management, driving up stock valuations, and allowing the company to further discount its retail prices, driving a virtuous cycle of innovation, valuation and market share. As Levy remarks, "The more we are able to form intelligent communities as open-minded, cognitive subjects capable of initiative, imagination, and rapid response, the more we will be able to ensure our success in a highly competitive environment (1998, 117). Success in today's information marketplace rests upon the formation of these freely associating communities of individuals of authentic "initiative" and "imagination." When "Content is king," survival in the free market depends upon providing more powerful methods of dissolving barriers to innovation and nurturing creative synergies. This creative imperative, emerging as it is from within capital itself, increasingly demands that the political economy extrude its flattened methods and metrics to respond effectively to this emergent economic environment. And this is increasingly accomplished through communications technologies which most effectively establish the conditions required for the managed enhancement or exploitation of human cognitive and creative capacities.

____ Hardt and Negri have provided perhaps the most explicit description of the dynamics of this confluence of human productive capacities with capital valorization, compassing the most sacred and mundane dimensions of self- and social-formation. Specifically, Hardt and Negri see the global formatting and privatization of embodied affect, subjectivity and desire as a qualitatively new form of capital valorization. Their remarks are therefore worth quoting at length. They explain that, in the Affect Economy,

Labor becomes increasingly immaterial and realizes it value through a singular and continuous process of innovation in production; it is increasingly capable of consuming or using the services of social reproduction in an ever more refined and interactive way. Intelligence and affect … just when they become the primary productive powers, make production and life coincide across the terrain on which they operate…. There would be no surplus if production were not animated throughout by social intelligence, by the general intellect and at the same time by the affective expressions that define social relations and rule over the articulations of social being. The excess of value is determined today in the affects, in the bodies crisscrossed by knowledge, in the intelligence of the mind, and in the sheer power to act. The production of commodities tends to be accomplished entirely through language, where by language we mean machines of intelligence that are continuously renovated be the affects and subjective passions.

____ Like Hardt and Negri, other scholars of these complex virtual and embodied dynamics today are also seeking the means to dissolve contemporary cognitive barriers to a more aesthetically integrative view of human experience. From New French Theorists such as Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard and Baudrillard, to American and other perspectives cited above, the techno-cultural paradigm which has been emerging over the past several decades has many straining at the bit of the traditional dialectic method. We want a new embodied metaphysics and appropriate and corresponding methods of integrative design and analysis.

____ As early as 1976, in L'Echange Symbolique et La Mort, Baudrillard, for example, announced the end of political economy and the demise of the linear dialectic:

The end of labor. The end of production. The end of political economy. The end of the dialectic signifier/signified which permitted an accumulation of knowledge and of meaning, and of a linear syntagm of cumulative discourse. The end simultaneously of the dialectic exchange value/use value which alone previously made possible capital accumulation and social production. The end of linear discourse. The end of linear merchandising. The end of the classic era of the sign. The end of the era of production (1976, 20).

____ Though hindsight reveals Baudrillard's pronouncements on the demise of political economy as premature at best, his thought and prose yet serve two powerfully illustrative functions. First, they reveal the limitations to sense-making when binary oppositions are taken to their (il)logical extremes. Secondly, his syntactic philosophy and rhetorical contortions are themselves arguments for the need for theory to extend itself beyond dialectical ratiocination. As previously mentioned, the unintended, or perhaps merely unconscious, product of this and other postmodern speculations often bears a striking resemblance to the writings of Buddhist scholars dating back to the time of Nagarjuna in the 2nd century A.D. To those who contend that today's virtual technologies of affect and intelligence serve to exacerbate a postmodern condition of accelerating fragmentation, Johnson responds that, "Conceptual turbulence - the sense of the world accelerating around you, pulling you in a thousand different directions - is a deeply Modern tradition with roots that go back hundreds of years." Particularly emphasizing the integrative aesthetic of the ICT interface, Johnson argues that, "What differentiates our own historical moment is that a symbolic form has arisen designed precisely to counteract that tendency, to battle fragmentation and overload with synthesis and sense-making. The interface is a way of seeing the whole" (1997, 238).

____ And, though I believe Johnson to be correct in his assessment of the aesthetic and ethical dimension of the virtual interface, as well as its underlying codes and architectures, in Chapter Four I will argue that the exploration and use of such eco-cognitive technologies in fact predates us by thousands of years.

____ To take one other example from the other end of the political economic spectrum, Fukuyama proclaimed the end of history a decade ago, arguing that capitalism and democracy had finally satisfied humankind's most essential nature. Fukuyama offered a picture of bourgeois rationality wherein capitalism enabled through democracy provides the total means by which all individuals may fulfill what he identifies as that which defines us as human. That is, "thymos," or the irrepressible need for public recognition of the atomistic and superior self. For Fukuyama, the failure of the Soviet experiment two decades ago was a clear signal of the end of conflicting worldviews, of a teleological arrival, and the hypostasized, materially sated culmination of reason in capitalist democracy (Dowdy, 1998, p. 318). Market capitalism, enabled by a supportive ideological infrastructure of liberal democracy provides the final, perfected means of channeling the individual's ego-drive toward economically productive ends. Fukuyama's concern is only that the status-leveling effects of democratic institutions will inevitably drain this vital life-force from the human soul and irretrievably diminish humankind's drive for individual and species supremacy, or, as he puts it, the impulse "to be recognized not just as equal, but as superior to others" (1992, p. xii). The tautological irony of this position may be seen in that such recognition of individual superiority has meaning only within given social networks where such recognition is an established behavior in the first place. As will be shown in our later discussion of Eastern social epistemologies, such a vaunted view of thymos has been antithetical to many cultures since ancient times.

____ Yet as we have seen, 21st Century political economy-and capital most palpably-is more accurately morphing beyond its linear, logical constraints and beyond our capacity to comprehend its new forms and dynamics with our traditional instrumental means of analysis. Baudrillard and Fukuyama each represent the trap of institutional involution. For Baudrillard, like many others of the postmodernist critics, language itself becomes a solipsistic trap. In his paraspatial hyperreality, Logos has become transcendent, beyond which there is no firm ground upon which to stand, no body within which experience is rooted. For Fukuyama and the conservative right, the obsession has become the perfect union of democracy and capital, marking the end of political economic evolution. The free market society becomes static, transcendent. But we know that political economy has not come a linear end. It evolves, extruding itself beyond the reach of linear logic. Capital reaches for new methods and new metaphors in network mathematics, in behavioral finance, in cognitive science. In a space of excess supply and diminishing surplus value, capital is driven to new modes of producing and consuming new forms of affect within new realms of subjective experience. The dynamics of convergence, encoding, formatting, privatization and globalization are already manifesting themselves in capital's efforts to integrate political economy with the environmental space on the one hand and the affective, embodied dimension on the other. It is, therefore, crucial that our conceptual frameworks and methods are capable of grasping this reality and anticipating its impacts.

____ Only by constructing an integrative conceptual framework and method which nurtures a unified space of technology and art-schematic replication and figurative transformation-will humanity be in a position to purposefully evolve itself, its emergent technological capabilities and its political-economy. This is thus a practical project, the goals of which are to confirm the source of value and meaning in human labor and articulate a clear set of principles and methods addressing the disconnect between capital's virtual value, our notions of human worth, and of our natural environment. The alternative is to allow these political-economic transformations to race on before us, driven by emergent dynamics beyond our grasp, fueled by outdated theories and methods of analysis and design. Capital will inevitably seek out the science to refine its methods of measuring and manipulating these spaces. The question is whether these methods will be transparent and democratic, or veiled and coercive, owned by and available only to a privileged few.


In designing new information and communications technologies, we design ourselves anew — for to be human is to be technological.



_ | Summary
0 | Introduction
1 | The Affect Economy
2 | Meaning Within Reason
3 | Meaning Beyond Reason
4 | A Return to Beauty
5 | Designing Value & Meaning
6 | Real World Case Studies
7 | Virtuality in the Flesh