Monday, January 05, 2015
Atlantic--"the death of the artist" lament vs Ribbon Farm, "we bring consumption sensibilities to production behavior choices"
The democratization of taste, abetted by the Web, coincides with the democratization of creativity.
The makers have the means to sell, but everybody has the means to make. And everybody’s using them. Everybody seems to fancy himself a writer, a musician, a visual artist. Apple figured this out a long time ago: that the best way to sell us its expensive tools is to convince us that we all have something unique and urgent to express.
“Producerism,” we can call this, by analogy with consumerism. What we’re now persuaded to consume, most conspicuously, are the means to create. And the democratization of taste ensures that no one has the right (or inclination) to tell us when our work is bad. A universal grade inflation now obtains: we’re all swapping A-minuses all the time, or, in the language of Facebook, “likes.”
It is often said today that the most-successful businesses are those that create experiences rather than products, or create experiences (environments, relationships) around their products. So we might also say that under producerism, in the age of creative entrepreneurship, producing becomes an experience, even the experience. It becomes a lifestyle, something that is packaged as an experience—and an experience, what’s more, after the contemporary fashion: networked, curated, publicized, fetishized, tweeted, catered, and anything but solitary, anything but private.
Among the most notable things about those Web sites that creators now all feel compelled to have is that they tend to present not only the work, not only the creator (which is interesting enough as a cultural fact), but also the creator’s life or lifestyle or process. The customer is being sold, or at least sold on or sold through, a vicarious experience of production.
The future of work looks bleaker than it needs to for one simple reason: we bring consumption sensibilities to production behavior choices. Even our language reflects this: we “shop around” for careers. We look for prestigious brands to work for. We look for “fulfillment” at work. Sometimes we even accept pay cuts to be associated with famous names. This is work as fashion accessory and conversation fodder.
We can think of this as conspicuous production, by analogy to conspicuous consumption. First-world artisan tendencies take this to a logical extreme.
When you subconsciously think of work as something you consume for pleasure, you end up with a possibly irrational (economically speaking) attraction to artisan work. Even those who don’t actually end up as artisans choose work the way they choose cars, jewelry or handbags, over-valuing things like resume-value and exposure-value. [emphasis added]
The result is a misguided analysis of the impact of computers and automation that makes us think the future of work is much darker than it is.
What’s the difference between a tradesman and an artisan? Think chimney-sweep versus bard as the extremes of the spectrum. Both are archetypes that mostly disappeared with late industrialization in the early twentieth century, thanks in part to automation, but there the similarities end.
One fulfilled a critical economic function by engaging in unpleasant and inconspicuous production. The other fulfilled a non-critical economic function in the economy by engaging in pleasurable and conspicuous production. [emphasis added]