Tiziana Terranova is very much concerned with the notion of the internet being a "gift economy". In a very strict Marxist critique, she considers the internet at tension with postmodern capitalist conceptions of labor and class, as labor is free and there is a free and open exchange and flow of intellectual property, cultural information, and collective consciousness. That's my main understanding of this argument.
But reading this essay made me wonder whether the internet is truly its own sociopolitical device, or simply a medium through which culture and information can be exchanged. If we are to assume Terranova's argument that the internet's "freedom" yields such high quanta of human culture, I think we have to look at how much of a break from historical creation of culture this is. Indeed, Terranova suggests that the internet is inescapably grounded to real-world things in the outernet, and I feel that because of this, the free exchange of information isn't really anything new, especially not with the advent of the internet.
Exchanging information, knowledge, and ideas on a very personal level can happen (and does happen) anywhere and everywhere outside the internet, but is subject entirely to geographic location. I could meet with anyone whom I know at a cafe and discuss some intellectual issue, which creates culture but does not necessarily archive it. It is impossible, therefore, to escape into complete freedom. The internet does allow for archiving (which is NOT free), as well as the possibility of exchanging information with anyone else in the world (which is also NOT free). Virtual labor is simply an extension of something that by nature cannot be free (bandwidth costs, hosting, etc).I feel like everything comes down to an issue of access. Were the whole world able to converge upon a cafe at any given time to overhear my conversation with a friend, we would have a pseudo-internet.
We thus arrive at the issue of the internet purely as a mediated way to create culture: Culture is not created because the internet can support free labor, it is merely made available to the mass public. The basic ideal is nothing new, and I find to be simply a mirroring of more traditional methods of production and consumption of knowledge and culture.
Terranova also discusses issues of labor in the internet and in post-industry. There was a specific passage that struck my mind, and made me question its validity or logic. On page 100, there is a claim that the internet has lead to dis-intermediation and thus the death of the middle man, and Terranova goes on to list travel agencies, book stores, etc etc.
I, however, stand by my reasoning that the internet is a medium like any other, except it is purely virtual. I recently purchased some items on eBay, which was quick, easy, and convenient. But it wasn't dis-intermediated. eBay was very clearly the middleman here. I concede that as a website, eBay is not a traditional embodiment of postindustrial capitalist service labor, but then again it is still painfully capitalist, it is still a middleman, and it still employs laborers.
I made reference to the issue of geography in the first part of this blog. I feel like internet middlemen arise simply because of the inefficiency of geography. Were it possible for the whole world to converge on a warehouse where everyone's items were for sale, eBay would not exist. It is thus an issue of practicality, I feel, rather than an incarnation of "free labor".