Our friend at Limited, Inc. has been writing about Marx recently and it has inspired me to scribble a few thoughts on the subject of the fetishism of digital commodities. Once the stupefaction induced by end of the semester grading passes, I plan to return this topic again since it will be the focus of my research in the coming months.
The particular aspect of digital commodities I want to explore is the way use-value comes unhinged from exchange-value. In the digital age, you really can have your cake and eat it too. A digital commodity, like your favorite Metallica mp3, can be sold or given away as many times as you like and still be there for you to play again and again. It's like the miracle of the loaves and fishes – consuming without end and always having more to share, sell, or give away. Below are some preliminary thoughts on one aspect of this topic. Comments and suggestions are very welcome.
LI writes in a recent post on the fetishism of the commodity:
The bond between the system and the ideology is not accidental – as we said above, every human system has to explain itself. It won’t work, otherwise. Ideology, then, is a surface phenomena only the way skin is a surface phenomena – try living without it.I like this imagery of ideology as the living skin of the commodity form. This means it can be peeled away – but not without a lot of blood and screaming. The ideology of capitalist private property is emblazoned on every commodity and reinforced by the uniqueness of every commodity. Even a mass produced item is one of a finite set of identical commodities. In digital commodities, though, there is never a limit to the number of copies. The imagined scarcity that helps enforce the ideology of private property disappears in the case of digital commodities. Stealing becomes an oddly abstract crime if the one you're stealing from still has the property in question. The loss of this one explanation for capitalist private property has occassioned a great deal of screaming about digital "piracy." Pirates are always scary, bloody and lawless. Perhaps it's the commodity form itself and its enclosing ideology of private property that's being tortured and skinned alive by these new-fangled digital pirates.
I'm looking forward to continuing these speculations. But, sadly, there are papers to grade first...