Industrious modernity. On the future of digital capitalism.
Alberto Cossu has invited Adam Arvidsson (University of Naples) to discuss his forthcoming book "Industrious modernity. On the future of digital capitalism" at Spui25. With responses by Niels van Doorn, Stefania Milan and Richard Rogers.
In 1987, Robert Solow, the Nobel laureate economist, famously claimed that ‘we can see computers everywhere, except in the productivity statistics’. Today we can say similar things about digital technologies. We see them everywhere, in the home, at work and on the subway where people travel ‘alone together’, each staring into their little screens, in the spooky surveillance algorithms that track our everyday life, and in the new magic world of bitcoin. The spread of digital technologies have been so fast that, in only two decades since the invention of the user-friendly internet, almost half of the world’s population have come to use them on a regular basis. But digital technologies do not seem to be able to generate enough economic growth to live up to the grandiose expectations that accompanied their arrival, or even to secure a decent standard of living for the growing global workforce. They have indeed not created an open ended, participatory economy where monopolies have been eroded by the competition from a multitude of small actors and where the new gains resulting from cheaper production and easier transactions have benefitted all. This inability of digital capitalism to generate growth and innovation testifies to a generalized crisis of the industrial model on which it builds.. Industrial development overall has proven disastrous, propelling us into an Anthropocene where the future is radically unpredictable.
At the same time, more people than ever are economically active, and innovation and entrpreneurship is booming across the globe. The global economy has seen a structural transformation where production has shifted over to a multitude of capital poor and labor-intensive businesses. Urbanization has driven a boom in small-scale service enterprises and a pirate economy made of bazaar traders that peddle cheap and sometimes counterfeited goods to those left out of the corporate economy. Among highly educated knowledge workers many are pushed out of corporate careers, and many are at the same time pulled by ideals of a less alienated work life, dedicated to the pursuit of quality experiences or to ‘changing the world’. This new ethic of work as a lifestyle is driving the start-up and social enterprise and neo artisan scenes of cities across the world.
In this talk, I suggest that the people excluded from an industrial modernity that is declining in importance and attractiveness are driving to make up a new industrious modernity. Like the industrious revolution that pioneered the emergence of a new market society during the European Middle Ages, industrious modernity is marked by labor intensive and capital poor actors that rely to a large extent on common knowledge, resources or technologies and that are driven by endogenous motivations like creativity, impact or self-realization. Taking this industriousness seriously provides us with a new perspective on the future of digital society, capitalist or not.
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