What Antonio Negri Taught CBS
Today capital can no longer exploit the worker; it can only exploit cooperation amongst workers, amongst laborers. -Antonio Negri, Pisa 2003
I have no doubt that this quote from one of the authors of Empire and Italian political activist will strike any Web 2.0 disciples as familiar. The tension between exploitation and power comes up frequently in writing on networked social media. A good example is in discussions of Digg that have come up in the past and recently, after the HD-DVD key dust-up. I've often read stories of Digg's exploitation of users; how without the users the site would be nothing, using the tireless efforts of thousands of un-remunerated individuals to build a collaborative linking behemoth. At the same time, however, moments like the HD-DVD code posting frenzy, the ultimate power and control of the user has never been more apparent than on a site like Digg. This is similar to the tension Negri sees, and has long seen, in national and global labor movements.
Another recent blog post reminded me of this Negri quote: Jeff Jarvis' praise of CBS Interactive's new media strategy. Jarvis notes that CBS executive Quincy Smith's realization that they cannot expect users to "come to" them is the correct way to approach new and networked media. It seems then, that Mr. Smith has been reading up on his Italian autonomists. Instead of direct exploitation in the form of forcing viewers to watch ads or pay for content, CBS has apparently decided to exploit the potential inherent in letting viewers interact using CBS media as a vehicle. While I'm sure that such a situation was far from Negri's mind when he was speaking in Pisa that day in 2003, it has been a tough road for media companies to see (and I might even say exploit) what he has seen in larger socio-political arenas.