Hacking Capitalism: Consumer Electronics and the New Convergence

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In this paper I critically engage with some major recent trends in the Consumer Electronics (CE) market, with particular emphasis on what some are calling a “new convergence” of products, services, and content. Using a Marxist-inspired framework developed by McKenzie Wark, I argue that new convergence trends – along with resistances to them – provide evidence for a rising class conflict between “vectoralists,” or those who own or control commodified information and information channels, and “hackers,” whose technical skills allow them to produce “hacks” that may either support or counter vectoralist interests and control. To both support this claim and highlight some of the associated implications, I discuss how recent business strategies employed by companies like Apple and Microsoft show the potential for a deep embedding of vectoralist interests and agendas within the software, firmware, and even hardware of CE devices, often via clever “hacks.” The iPod/iTunes/iPhone family figures prominently here, as does Windows Vista. These cases suggest that resisting or subverting vectoralist control over media and media conduits is becoming increasingly difficult and even illegal. The paper also looks at a small company called Neuros Technology to probe how a handful of CE companies are trying out different business models that stand in tension with dominant vectoralist interests and agendas, including by empowering hacker-users to both modify CE devices and assume full control of their media content. I conclude by probing whether these alternative models might point toward oppositional, alternative, and/or transitional forms of capitalism.

Keywords: Hackers, Hacking, Capitalism, Consumer Electronics, Microsoft, Apple, Wark, Convergence
Stream: Knowledge and Technology
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Brent Jesiek

Manager, Center for Digital Discourse and Culture, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA, USA

A graduate of Virginia Tech's Science and Technology Studies (STS) program, Dr. Jesiek's research interests span areas such as the history of computing, engineering studies, engineering education, social informatics, and Internet studies. He is now working on a book that documents the historical emergence and development of the field of computer engineering in the United States. Articles and reviews by Brent have appeared in First Monday, New Media and Society, Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society, and Journal of Engineering Education. He is currently the manager of Virginia Tech's Center for Digital Discourse and Culture (CDDC), one of the world's first university based digital points-of-publication for new forms of scholarly communication, academic research, and cultural analysis. He is also serving as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Science and Technology in Society, where he is doing NSF-supported research on global engineering education.

Ref: T08P0291