Value, Reality and Objects: Digital Digital Economy? Annamaria Carusi

Value, Reality and Objects:
what is Digital about a
Digital Economy?
Annamaria Carusi
Oxford e-Research Centre
University of Oxford
• Digital Economy Research Programme
• Innovative Media for the Digital Economy
Research Cluster
• Focusing on Social Technology Systems in
Creative Industries, Transport and Health
• STS including Social Networking Systems
• User generated content
Our questions
• What forms of exchange?
• What forms of production and
• What forms of value?
Digital Economy and
Digital Lives
In economic sense
supply and
In other senses:
…. etc
A multitude of objects ….
– Emails, images, tags, bookmarks, documents,
spreadsheets, music, movies, data in every shape
and variety
– By the very nature of digital artefacts
Intermittent existence
Lightness (Agustin Araya)
• Loss of ‘quality control’
• Bypassing traditional gatekeepers
– Editors
– Publishers
– Curators
– Professionals
Crisis in trust
• Authenticity and provenance
• Institutional roles: authorship, editorship and
• Status, expertise and professionalism
• Truth
• Ethics
• Technological system: how reliable is it (I’m
not going to lose all my emails, images,
documents); how secure is it (no unwanted
Value and trust
• Of all the multitude of objects out there, which
should I value?
• Ought I to value this particular rendition of a
digital artefact (this version of The Old
Curiosity Shop that I am listening to from
what seems to be the BBC7 site;)?
• Ought I to entrust my valued collection of
Christmas images to iPhoto or Picasa?
• Trust is a way of reducing complexity (Niklas
Complexity reducing
• Ratings
• Reputation
• Apomediation: ‘guide on the side’
(inter=between; apo=stand by (separate,
• Provenance tracking
• Reliability
• Encryption and security
• Which are social and which are technical?
• Which are trustworthy?
• Trust is the cement of social relations at all
levels, including economic
• Any co-operative activity requires trust:
Buying and selling
Entering into any contract or agreement
Making dinner arrangements
• We always and everywhere trust
• Trust makes mistrust possible
• We trust a lot more than we normally talk
about trust
• We talk about it in exceptional circumstances,
like when something has gone wrong or when
we can’t fall back on trust
• We talk about it all the time in digital economy
and in the development of digital
• Technologies are disruptive of our
normal practice; they bring these
practices to the fore and make us reflect
on them.
• They make us wonder …. ‘but how can
we go on trusting ….?’
• ‘How do we trust?’, ‘How ought we to
Writing as a disruptive
‘Once a thing is put in writing, it rolls about all
over the place, falling into the hands of those
who have no concern with it just as easily as
under the notice of those who comprehend; it
has no notion of whom to address or whom to
avoid. And when it is ill-treated or abused as
illegitimate, it always needs its father to help
it, being quite unable to protect or help itself.’
Plato, Phaedrus.
Writing …
‘Rolls about’
Don’t know where it comes from
Don’t know how it will be used
There is no truth in it because there is
no possibility of authentication
• For all of these reasons, there is no
wisdom to be gained through it
Cf Digital Data and
Provenance Concerns
‘Provenance refers to the knowledge that
enables a piece of data be interpreted
correctly. It is the essential ingredient that
ensures that users of data (for whom the data
may or may not have been originally
intended) understand the background of the
data. This includes elements such as, who
(person) or what (process) created the data,
where it came from, how it was transformed,
the assumptions made in generating it, and
the processes used to modify it.’
Quoted on NSF site:
Value and trust
• Multiplicity -- superabundance -- of digital
entities of all kinds
• But in order for them to have value …
• We need to know how to trust them
• Often
– Something that ties them to their circumstances of
– Something that embeds them in a story ….
– Something that situates them in particular human
– Something that enables them to be interacted with
Real vs digital
• Greater reality accorded to the original and to
the particular
• The aura of [an object] has to do with its
authenticity, its rootedness in a particular time
and place, in tradition and rituals,
• Walter Benjamin: ‘The work of art in the age
of mechanical reproduction’ (1936)
– Photography; film (especially sound film)
• Reproducible forms displace aura in favour of
exhibition value
Real vs digital
• ‘Permeation of reality with mechanical
equipment’ (Benjamin)
• The ‘mechanical equipment’ -- and its output -- is a form of interaction with that reality
• Activities
– Gathering, collecting, hording
– Tagging, manipulating, embedding in mashups
– Exchanging, sharing, distributing
‘The key, he says, is tightly integrating online activity with
tasks people can perform in the real world. "Yes, there are
blogs and Listservs," Franklin-Hodge says. "But the point
of the campaign is to get someone to donate money, make
calls, write letters, organize a house party. The core of the
software is having those links to taking action--to doing
something.’ ( Talbot, How Obama Really Did It’, Technology
Review, 2008)
Objects vs actants
• Subjects/users and objects
• Digital artefacts?
• Objects ‘stare back’
– The ‘invisible threads that tie us to objects’, the
‘snares and visual wires’; making us look at some
rather than others (James Elkins)
• Digital actants
– Anything that has a [functional] role within a
Back to value
• The value of digital artefacts does not arise
from the real
• Neither (for the vast preponderance of digital
artefacts) from their relationship to money
• Connect digital artefacts with activities,
motivations, actions, real lives
• Learn the lessons of history
• Embed trust in the processes, uses and
actions through which digital artefacts gain
Annamaria Carusi
Oxford e-Research Centre
University of Oxford