Strong parts need further revision.

The role of technology

Marx already knew, that technology is an important factor for the mode of production: "Eine Gesellschaft von Handmühlen, ..."

Indeed the history of capitalism shows very well, which role technology plays. There is good evidence that capitalism really began in the early 17th century [ImTaktDesGeldes] with the invention of capitalist money. However, industrial capitalism as we know it today began with the invention of industry in the early 19th century. The industry invented then was not only characterized by a separation of labor but also by a ever growing use of machinery. It were the science of nature which lead to the development of technology which in turn was the basis for the machinery-based industry we know so well in the industrialized countries.

Industrial capitalism started a historical process with two main features. On the one hand the manipulation of matter was perfected more and more. Today we have means of production which are able to build products with a complexity no-one was able to imagine two hundred years ago.

On the other hand humans which were needed for the manipulation of matter before were replaced by machinery step by step. It is noteworthy that machinery is only a special form of matter. In other words: The historical process referred to itself and this way established a positive feedback cycle.

Only during the last sixty years capitalism entered the realm of information by the invention of computers. Information technology started with military, industrial and administrative uses. Today it is evident that information technology underlies those infrastructures more and more. In fact more and more infrastructure is pointless without information technology.

However, it is also evident that information technology has a much bigger potential: The Internet became commonplace during the early 2000s and for a good part of us - and especially the younger generation - the failure of the Internet would be a bigger loss than a failure in electricity. So information technology not only influences the fields it was invented for in the first place, but became a part of everyone's life.

So it's clear that information technology is an important development for capitalism. But what may this mean for a new mode of production?

We think there are three main answers. The first answer has to do with the topic of information technology: information. We saw that capitalism perfected the manipulation of matter. Information, however, has a few properties which are different from matter. While the manipulation of matter was the topic of the last(ing) mode of production the manipulation of information is a good candidate for becoming the core of a new mode of production.

Please note that there is a too often overlooked trap in saying that information has a few properties which are different from matter. In fact information is always bound to matter in some way if it should be used. Though it makes sense to talk of the abstract concept of information and its features we still live in a material world and to be used any information needs to be bound to matter.

The historical change with information technology now is, that this binding to matter matters less and less. In particular the ease and perfection in transmitting digital information from one place to another - also known as digital copy - makes the binding of information two a certain matter less important. For example: It is quite a job to copy a book on photo copier. The same thing is done with a finger snip with a digital text.

So the second answer is that this technological change may have major consequences. Historically processing information became easier and easier. If you spell out "easier" this means with less and less human labor needed - be it by copying texts by hand, be it by human labor crystallized in big machinery like a printing press. With information technology becoming commonplace we see how the technical means of production to process information do not only exist but become commonplace.

The third answer has to do with the other type of means of production you need for the manipulation of information: the human brain. During industrial capitalism big machinery was key. The control over big machinery, however, was limited to the capitalists. They used the big machinery to maximize profit. A human brain, however, is owned by an individual. Although the individual may choose to sell the use of its brain to an employer this is a different from selling mechanical labor power. In fact the individual may decide to use his or her brain for non-alienated goals. [Needs to be spelled out further and rethought]

The three answers given result in an explosive combination. Information may be a topic for a new mode of production. At the same time the means of production for processing information are commonplace so this new topic may grow. Last but not least the human brain as an important means of production for information is controlled by individuals who may choose to use it for non-alienated goals. These new qualities enabled by information technology may make a mode of production possible which is quite different from the contemporary mode of production.

This said we need to talk about software production. Above we argued that during the historical process of capitalism the manipulation of matter has been done more and more by other matter. Software production now is the same in information technology. In fact software in the form of executable code is analogous to industrial machinery. As machinery is built with machinery, software is built with the help of software. [May be this thought belongs somewhere else or revised]

In fact there is one realm where all these aspects come together very visibly: The production of Free Software. Software production uses information technology and at the same time produces new information technology. Obviously the topic of software production is information. At the same time Free Software as a special branch of software production is produced with the technical means of production being commonplace. Last but not least most of Free Software is created by individuals for non-alienated goals. Indeed later in the book we will describe Free Software as the first practice of this new mode of production.

[ImTaktDesGeldes]Eske Bockelmann * Im Takt des Geldes

Oekonux/Project/Book/ModeOfProduction/RoleOfTechnology (last edited 2011-11-24 16:16:57 by StefanMerten)

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