Hacking Capitalism: Consumer Electronics and the New Convergence
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
Dr. Brent Jesiek
Manager, Center for Digital Discourse and Culture, Virginia Tech