Coincentral has a new article by Christina Comben, that you can (and should) read here:
Titled: AlphaNetworks Founder Seth Shaprio Says the Media Business is Broken and Everybody Knows it, the article is, an unintentional critique of the fundamental structures of Capitalism, Capitalist Realism and the Neo-Liberal narrative.
It is also manifestation of a Third Wave Capitalism, rebranded, and presenting itself as Kool.
First Wave Capitalism was the Industrial Revolution, and Second Wave Capitalism was mass industrialization, mass society, and industrial war and industrial genocide. Third Wave Capitalism is the hallmark of postindustrial society in which technology is harnessed to raise the dead (Capitalism) and sell the ongoing destruction of the environment, to create a dystopia in which exploitation, degradation, and the traditional definition of the worker to owner hierarchy is maintained but is rebranded as kool – a better tasting fewer calories injection of the same old retrograde relationships.
Consider the opening:
“Another day, another blockchain company resolved to take on the broken media and advertising industries.
It’s a pretty common assumption that current models are failing on many fronts. Viewers are forced to watch ads they have no interest in. Advertisers pay to irritate the wrong audience. As for the content creators? They’re mostly scraping by on cup-noodles in dimly-light apartments.”
The first sentence is accurate but its true purpose is to alert the reader to what follows. This is not only an accurate description of the media landscape but it is an accurate description of the entire socio-economic-political structure and covers both the neo-fascist narrative of Steve Bannon and the populism and ersatz leftism of Bernie Sanders. The content creators, in this version are a specific class of workers – including but not limited to people who write scripts, or design webpages, or produce podcasts, etc. but, while that is true, it is also a description of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of worker-bees, stripped of union protection, basic civil liberties, and any hope of organizing to change their status as disposable commodities.
Comben quotes Shapiro to that effect without his actually coming out and saying that he’s describing the entire system:
““That’s how I would define broken,” says Seth Shapiro Founder of media company AlphaNetworks. “Things are broken when the creator isn’t really happy, and the consumer isn’t really happy and no one feels like they got a great deal. They’re all just trying to get by and I think we can do a lot better.” ”
Needless to say, in what amounts to being so obvious as to rise to the level of a banality, what Shapiro is describing is Marxism 101. The worker is alienated from their labor and is reduced to the status of either a serf or a slave, devoid of anything except a sense of impotent rage and crippling alienation.
Of course Shapiro is what we would define as an Enlightened Capitalist or a proponent of Capitalist Kool. He is not interested in ending capitalism, per se, but he is interested in modifying it so it is less awful than it is currently configured.
Consider this description of Shapiro’s background and his goals:
“”With a background in psychology and a passion for music, Seth worked as a producer of an independent record label, learning two valuable lessons early on. First, that organizational psychology is fundamental to success. “So much of innovation has to do with the culture of the company,” he says. And second, “never go into a business that’s not expanding.””
It is no accident that Shapiro is from a different world than the standard corporate CEO psychopath. This is not to say he isn’t a capitalist but it is to highlight the intrinsic ruthless thuderdome nature of capitalism as it is of course committed to an “organizational psychology” that takes labor as replaceable, and defined as being an intelligent hammer or screwdriver. That is, its organizational psychology is a kind of postmodern feudalism in which the worker’s purpose is obedience to the hierarchy which of course is based on exploitation. Once the tool has outlived its usefulness – to the owner – it is discarded.
Shapiro’s point that businesses that aren’t expanding should be avoided is of course, standard capitalist dogma – the market must grow – even if it’s at the expense of everything else, including its own viability.
Shapiro is here expressing the standard contradictions of capitalism. Treating employees and consumers with respect is of course contrary to the heart of the system and ultimately impossible as a long term strategy. Either the workers must be emancipated, which means at the very least socialism (or something a lot like it), or they must be consumed, which means the collapse of capitalism into either anarchy, or fascism.
Shapiro is here revealed to be entering through the front door of enlightened commerce and exiting through the back door of Lehman Brothers before the crash.
Which is not to define Shaprio as a fool or an idiot. He is neither. He is an odd duck in the sense that he arrives in the corporate world with a resume that includes backgrounds in music, and music production as well as experience in writing computer code. In other words, a creative soul able to empathize and sympathize. But at the same time, he is using those abilities to refine what is an immoral, illogical and impractical system.
Able to perceive mutually exclusive ideas at the same time and continue to function, Shapiro offers a pitch perfect analysis of Social Media but, unless the interview was edited, he fails to see how his description is about the entire system in which Social Media is a subcategory:
““I think in many fundamental ways, YouTube is broken,” he says. “There was a lot of promise in the idea of broadcast yourself or the influencer-driven age. But the fact is that we’re in an environment where anybody’s content can be pulled down off of a platform at any time for any reason. And only 3 percent of all the total contributors earn above the poverty line. That to me seems like it’s not an optimal model.
As influencer culture becomes more and more important and as more people have the ability and the talent to make good videos, there ought to be a way for them to make a living. It’s not just YouTube, it’s Facebook as well. I think that trying to build a video-based business or trying to build a business on YouTube or Facebook is like trying to build a house on somebody else’s land. You’re just waiting for the other shoe to fall.””
Trying to build a house on someone else’s land is of course the crux of the capitalist dilemma. The relentless commodification of all things means, by definition, that all things are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. What Shapiro has described is not confined to Social Media but is the perilous state of the entire system.
Naturally Shapiro sees a solution to the dilemma in blockchain – the backbone of cryptocurrencies. The problem is of course, as we have outlined previously, that the Federal Government will never allow an unregulated currency to exist and no matter how the currency is defined by its users what will matter is how the government defines it. As a result cryptocurrencies no matter how innovative, no matter how much of a sabot in the gears of the traditional system, can not escape from the system without genuine resistance. Since that is not its ultimate goal it remains trapped.
Consider this set of points which we quote at length:
“Apart from a working product and some pretty insane partnerships, the company is thinking way into the future. Through Watson AI, they can actually extract facial and auditory recognition and learn the types of content viewers enjoy the most to target highlights to them. Creepy or cool?
“Watson has full visual recognition and full auditory recognition and can begin to extract metadata and subject matter and tonality and sentiment,” Seth says. They already tried it out editing high-quality football reels.
“We’re looking to really deepen the metadata and the information about programming and to do deeper data analysis on what people are really responding to and then to be able to more effectively get them more stuff that they really like without having to wade through thousands and thousands of stuff. If you consider an environment like YouTube, if you’re not searching for a particular artist, it can be very challenging to find something. You need a much deeper curation and data science approach.” ”
If you’re not foolish, and at all literate, you will be reminded of any number of dystopian portraits from William Gibson’s Cyberpunk to P.K. Dick’s Blade Runner to, Huxley and Orwell.
The idea of the machines reading our faces to better serve us by which it means using us to serve the machines, and those who profit from them, is both laughable and terrifying.
Make no mistake this particular nightmare is getting closer every day. That the ongoing collapse of the environment will probably make it irrelevant is no comfort as it means that in order to treat your headache History will cut off your legs.
Where Shaprio says his aim is to deepen (i.e., exploit) metadata, without mentioning the post Edward Snowden Big Brother reality of mass surveillance, and the fact that it is by definition a kind of comfortable tyranny (for the bourgeoise and the ruling class), essentially tells you everything you need to know about the man and the absurdity of the system in which he operates.
The more stuff people want mantra is tone deaf at best, and at worst the same old same old approach of every other corporatist going back to P.T. Barnum and ultimately back through the ages to the idea of bread and circuses.
Speaking of The Internet of things, Shapiro offers this accurate if pointy-headed view of your future:
“…Video consumption, as soon as things like self-driving cars proliferate, basically people are going to have hours and hours more screen time. There’s going to be nothing else to do. You’re going to see the proliferation of more and more what we used to think of as screens and then eventually our kids will be like, ‘Oh, that was so cute! They used to watch these devices. How old-fashioned.’ It’ll just be out here in your field of vision with augmented reality and stuff. There’s going to be a larger and larger audience for more, I don’t want to call it niche, but more types and areas of programming that haven’t even been invented yet.””
In other words, a captive audience, devoid of choice, is told it has every choice so long as it takes something from the prescribed lists, and gives up its autonomy to driverless cars (themselves drones controlled by satellites controlled by server farms), and a never ending stream of advertising and content injected straight to their eyeballs as capitalism transforms itself into a psychic heroin delivered by a dirty needle that is itself the totality of the toxic system.
At the end, Comben like a postmodern Pandora, raises the warning flag but also offers a hope for some sort of soft capitalism:
“Contemplating wandering around in a personalized, driverless bubble, watching content and advertising collide with the real world, it’s hard to imagine having any contact with our kids at all. But then, throughout out the ages technology has been brandished as detrimental to society. Perhaps if we have an ecosystem in which all stakeholders are happy and the value flows in the right direction, we may be able to reconcile with technology after all.”
Of course being a stakeholder is simply redefining capitalism 101 as a bespoke capitalism with a fresh coat of paint and a smiley face. It still means, as Shaprio said, waiting for the shoe to drop. This is Kool Capitalism – slick, sleek, and seductive – just so long as you ignore everything that’s wrong with it.