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Response to Distributive vs Extractive Economics in the Digital Age

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

The following is a discussion board post I made for a Media Ecology course in response to this prompt:

"In this short talk (, Douglas Rushkoff discusses the main differences (and how those differences, make a difference) between an extractive and distributive economic model for digital platforms. By doing so he also highlights some key concepts related to media ecological thought. In 1-2 succinct paragraphs, I'd like you to reflect on the following:

  1. What are the main differences between these two economic model?

  2. Using ideas discussed in class (and/or examples from your experiences), identify 2-3 specific media ecology  concepts that are reflected in Rushkoff's talk. Please be specific, e.g.:

  3. "At 2m50s of the clip, Rushkoff talks about.... This idea resonates with McLuhan's notion of games given that..."

You don't have to use McLuhan (you can use anything we've discussed in class, including concepts from our two most recent texts (Postman & Van Dijck et al.)."

According to Rushkoff, the difference between extractive and distributive money systems is the former externalizes cost of everything (energy, land, labor, perception, money) to create capitol, while the latter shares them collectively in solidarity. Rushkoff and Van Dijck spoke much of the same language in regards to the platformatized digital era. While at 2m40s Rushkoff reminded that, "the operating system beneath these operating systems is corporate capitalism", Van Dijck provided specifics as to how these venture capitalists have manipulated the institutional and legal frameworks of our binary-predicated Western world. For example, Van Dijck provided extensively strategic procedural background on out how these Big Five corporations have deliberately categorized the operators and users of their platforms (Air Bnb/Uber) as "hybrid actors" (pg. 20). Instrumentally, this deliberate conceptual blurring of local, state, and national tax classifications have allowed corporations to bypass anti-trust regulations and efficiently vertically integrate their infrastructural and sectoral platforms. As Rushkoff goes on to explain, an alternative to this model is a distributive system, which he argued is the backbone of a true democracy. Unlike the neoliberal global and transnational capitalist American economy, this circulatory type of money system doesn't externalize anyone or anything, but instead looks at who and what has been externalized and works to be accountable to them.

At 8m45s Rushkoff warned that, "Without human intervention and a focus on solidarity, conscious in our mind, human solidarity then we let the tools run our world for us...and then we get Trump...a mobocracy. Trump is the perfect digital candidate, the perfect expression of the digital media environment, sans humanity. As if he came from the trollish comment section of any blog." This "listened" to me much like when Postman wrote that our definitions of truth are in part derived from, "the character of the media of communication through which information is media are implicated in our epistemologies" (pg. 17). Similarly, at 10m4s Rushkoff said, "Our platforms, because they are optimized for extraction of value from people and places, they are optimized for attention, for sensationalism, they are optimized to create filter bubbles and excitement...and what is a filter bubble really? The externalization of those we don't want to see." This was reminiscent to me of Postman's use of conversation as a metaphor to refer to "all techniques and technologies that permit people of a particular culture to exchange messages" (pg.6). When put in conversation with Postman's earlier segment on how American businessmen, "discovered, long before the rest of us, that the quality and usefulness of their goods are subordinate to the artifice of their display" (pg. 4) I read that as him connecting prophesizing dots which markedly foreshadow the flashy digitally extractive capitalist system that exists today. 

For example, the new reality game show "The Circle" is the epitome of our increasingly global and transnational neoliberal capitalist digital platform society. In form, the Netflix show is comprised of people who have consented to be locked down within their own aesthetically pleasing apartment. In eerie 1984 style, prior to each and every captive's arrival, their space has been installed with surveillance cameras and a television to project the show's signature social media platform. Each contestant's experience from start to finish is filtered by the constraints of "The Circle"'s narrowly designed interface; wherein contestants have the individual option to create either a real or fabricated catfish profile, in efforts to manipulate fellow participants and gain favorable ratings. As the show unfolds, on the surface, each user performs strategically expressed collective appeals of likability and human compassion. However, in earnest, each contestant is ultimately individually motivated by competition: to be rated most favorably and win prize money. As Rushkoff prefaced at the beginning of his talk, the intention of players involved is secondary here. The focus should be: it is sad to see that well-intentioned people can be placed inside this type of gamified system and be subjected to it's model. Additionally, the first series of this franchise was produced in English, titled simply "The Circle"; demonstrating the linguistic practices of how Whiteness and Western Eurocentricity are deliberately unnamed and, thus, ideologically normalized. This condition is only further evidenced by the fact that recently, Netflix released both Brazilian and French versions of the show, which have been explicitly marked: "The Circle: Brazil" and "The Circle: France" respectively. To conclude, in true platformatized global and transnational media style, each series glocalizes site specific adaptations of language, as well as socioeconomic and cultural norms of each context.


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