Life, Labour and Love—the final section in Chapter 4 from the Lury text—discusses the ways in which the lines between producer and consumer have been blurred in various industries. For example, “serving as the bank teller at an ATM,” where the customer is not only the consumer of the bank’s services, but partially the producer as well.

While producers have been creating “prosumers” in physical places like ATMs and theme parks for decades, the innovation and proliferation of the Internet in American society seems to have expanded the use of “free labor.” As Terranova discusses, website producers create worlds that remain valueless until filled with ‘life,” i.e. user-generated content. What comes to my mind after reading this section is the image of a newly activated Twitter account, a profile that’s not following anyone, and leaving you with a blank feed, void of use and information.

If we accept the argument that Twitter website and app producers are virtually unable to create any meaning for the consumer and rather just provide a medium for production, it might not be possible to consider them producers in the Marxist meaning of the word. The text suggests that this is a problem in translating capitalist critique to the digital age.

Nonetheless, the website or app producer holds significant power. They are able to modify the interface, features, rules, and abilities of the website, transforming the ways in which prosumers relate to the information consumed. For instance, simply adding the video function to Instagram dramatically alters the ways in which producers can produce their content. Although video functions included in traditionally photo-based platforms may not be the dramatic subjugation that Marxist critique craves, it does highlight the way that the website producer is not an idle service provider.

just TRY to pass that 140 character word limit…

This point of view becomes more of concern when we turn to issues of content ownership, especially in examining the ways that traditionally private information (personal photographs, friend to friend interactions, real-time locations, etc.) becomes commoditized in prosumer networks like Facebook. In this instance, the facilitator-producer actually owns all of the content made by the prosumer and sells it to interested parties to earn a profit. Perhaps the “fetishization of commodities” comes into play here when the prosumer does not realize that his content is being used for marketing and ad deals behind closed doors, or that once his photo is uploaded, it is property by Facebook.

Beyond this train of thought, I’m not really sure what to make of the cross between Marxism and user-generated content. The conflicts in assessing commodification of information on the Internet are difficult for me to wrap my head around and I hope that we will get into them down the line in our class discussions. Let me know if you have any thoughts to add!

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