In the last blog post, I concluded by noting that my next steps were to do some further reading on other theories and frameworks that may be suitable for my research. In this post, I want to provide an update on just that. I haven’t finished them, but I have done enough that I am starting to get a feel for some of the concepts and where they may fit.
So, what have I been reading?
Amazon and Digital Lords
Well, for starters, I worked my way through Benedetta Brevini and Lukasz Swaitek’s Amazon: Understanding a Global Communication Giant. For the uninitiated, this book is one in a series examining… er… global media giants. Brevini and Swaitek do a great job at examining the variety of pies which Amazon has its metaphorical fingers in and why they are interested in these fields. It’s particularly good at examining the hidden motives behind some of their more seemingly beneficial and altruistic actions and why they may have occurred. On the whole, it’s a great critical examination of the power and influence that Amazon wields.
What is specifically interesting for the sake of our framework is the metaphor put forward in the final chapter, which paints Amazon (and other similiar companies) as digital lords, reminiscent of the feudal rulers of old. This is a metaphor which is touched on briefly here, but one that Brevini has continued to expand upon in her more recent work (including a recent AoIR panel).
This metaphor seems like one that will be extremely helpful, particularly thanks to the ways it can be used to highlight the different benefits that creators can receive by co-operating with communications giants – or “digital lords”. Works like Kopf’s Rewarding Good Creators or Caplan and Gillespie’s Tiered Governance and Demonetisation (both of which you can read my thoughts about on the Readings section of this site) have highlighted an existing hierarchy in adjacent industries to the gaming podcast industry. Looking at the platforms and the powers they exercise through this framework seems like it will be likely to provide some important insights – especially when combined with a platform capitalism analysis of creators’ monetization strategies.
Beyond this, I have also been reading Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, and Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias’ The Costs of Connection in order to get more of a grasp on the ideas of surveillance capitalism and data colonialism respectively. Both of these have been enlightening and I am likely to finish them in due course (I am currently 25% through Zuboff’s book and 50% through the other). Despite this, I’m slightly more hesitant when it comes to making either of them a pillar of the framework I hope to use. This isn’t a slight on anybody involved, as I find the ideas genuinely compelling, but I feel they are marginally less appropriate for reasons I hope to elaborate upon below.
Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism is, unfortunately, less relevant than I’d hoped. The book itself is extremely well thought out, and I have genuinely found myself referencing it in conversations with some of my more tech oriented friends who are less skeptical about “Big Data” (I have genuinely had multiple points where points my friend has raised have been addressed and refuted by Zuboff in the very next chapter I read). But this doesn’t change that fact that data issues feel like they will be slightly more marginal in the PhD project as I’m currently shaping it. This may change of course, and I have no doubt they will be involved in some form when discussing podcast charts, analytics and ratings, but it feels secondary. In those instances I’ll likely reference Zuboff’s work, but at the moment it isn’t a load bearing pillar in my theoretical framework.
The concept of Data Colonialism put forward by Couldry and Mejias has similar issues when it comes to integration into the thesis. Unfortunately, I also think that the metaphor in play here is slightly too complicated to be easily applied (at least, based on my current reading and knowledge). This was put into perspective after I explained it to a friend during a car ride earlier in the week. I felt like I’d done a great job of explaining it all, but she was left with one remaining question that I struggled to explain: “Why is this data colonialism and not data capitalism?”
Couldry and Mejias have an answer to this question of course. It’s data colonialism because capitalism is itself an outgrowing of colonialism. By using this phrase instead, they are highlighting the lineage which this system is a part of, and drawing specific attention to the ways that the current system is appropriating and commodifying human lives in the same way as colonialism did with natural land. I explained this to my friend… but there was still some difficulties that prevented her from fully grasping the concept.
This is what worries me about including it in my thesis. Untill I can more clearly explain and understand the metaphors at play here, I don’t want to put them in and risk misrepresenting both the work of great scholars, and my argument. In contrast, I feel that the Digital Feudalism metaphor is one I grasp slightly better (and I have the privilege of being able to speak with Benedetta about her work) so that’s the argument I’m leaning slightly more towards. Again, when it comes to big data, neither of these are off the table, but at the moment I find the digital feudalism framework slightly more expansive and accessible.
My extensive games list from last time has shortened slightly! I finished Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which ended up being basically the only game I played until I was done.
I really enjoyed it. As a fan of the comics (particularly the original “modern” Guardian’s run and Ewing’s recent eighteen issues) I thought it did a great job at balancing the lore of the comics with the expectations that people might have from the MCU versions to tell a fun story. The game itself was also a refreshingly straightforward endeavor with none of the live-service aspects that ruined the Avengers game (and this is coming from a Destiny fan).
One of the more interesting comparisons I found myself pondering was its comparisons to the Mass Effect trilogy. Having completed the Legendary Edition of that series earlier this year I found myself commenting that I wished that the games did more to highlight interactions between your squad separate from you and your player character (something which the series only really started to touch on in the third game). In many respects, GoTG feels like it’s a fulfillment of that wish. As many have pointed out, it’s a very talky game, and wandering around my spaceship listening to the team banter I couldn’t help but think of comparisons to Mass Effect (something which the team-centric third person shooter combat also encouraged). The dialogue is good, and it feels like the slightly smaller team allows them to dig deeper into the dynamics than the Mass Effect series did.
I’m very curious to see where the series could go next in a sequel. Expanding the team roster to include some of the standout supporting cast from this game and mixing up the combat. Including character building side missions rather than limiting these moments to cut-scenes. More impactful choices in the narrative. The fact that the game has made me excited enough to envision the franchise future and dream about it speaks well to the time I had with it.
Anyway, that’s my thoughts for the past couple of weeks. Now it’s time to get back to
Disco Elysium more reading for the project.