We ourselves are involved in an information economy every time we log on to Facebook or send an email, wherever the circulation of information heightens our visibility.
In an era when direct government intervention is despised (I don’t need handouts from Big Government!), new technologies of self-control have grown to replace it, as a greater part of our lives is taken up with the ‘work of watching’ and the ‘work of being watched’.
The reality TV show, for instance, is predicated on the idea of feedback. Indeed, one might understand the new media mix as a circuit of production that collapses the differences between producer and consumer. This has very interesting consequences economically because, although we work to make this media happen, we are paid little or no money for the work we do – in fact, in most cases we pay out of our own pocket. The profit from our work actually goes to the (TV) production companies, the phone companies and big media conglomerates, along with the media retail outlets that sell us upgraded equipment. As a consequence of all this, we can no longer say we live in the ‘society of the spectacle’. We are everything but passive consumers of products; we live in a society of self-performance in which we constantly present ourselves and excite the interest of others in what we do, and this self-performance is a commodity that has a price. I don’t think I am straying into the realms of science fiction if I suggest that contemporary media have created a form of immediacy in which human subjectivity is the principal object of production and consumption, and media serve to facilitate that production and consumption. Laurie Ouellette and James Hay, in Better Living Through Reality TV (2008), link Michel Foucault’s idea of ‘governmentality’ with current neo-liberal strategies of ‘privatisation’, ‘volunteerism’, ‘entrepreneurism’, ‘responsabilisation’, which extend media production into the realm of political reasoning. By ‘governmentality’ I mean that we are governed by the material practices of discourse, which are distinct from government per se. It is the regime of constant testing, perpetual visibility and self-reliance that governs and produces us as subjects.
The imperative to perform has been a subject of discussion form some time, of course, and has been variously described by the ‘experience economy’ (Jim Gilmore and Joe Pine), ‘immaterial labour’ (Maurizio Lazzarato), ‘the control society’ (Gilles Deleuze), ‘the mode of information’ (Mark Poster), ‘the weightless society’ (Charles Leadbeater), ‘the networked society’ (Manuel Castells), and as the engine behind the ‘new spirit of capitalism’ (Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello). All attempt to explain the shift from the manufacturing society, which is based on physical labor and material products, to a networked society, which is based on the exchange of information.
Through the necessary exchange of data about ourselves we are being herded into what Mark Andrejevic calls a ‘digital enclosure’ in which our identities (or profiles) can be constructed and in which we can be identified as very particular consumers. Ultimately, our own perfomance becomes a commodity for exchange. So the digital age essentially represents a new discipline of management relations and – perhaps, it would be fair to say – a new discipline of self-management. It also represents a new era of political management.