We are often told that we live in the information age, but is this a limited and insufficient description of our times? Hardt and Negri used the terms “immaterial” or “biopolitical” to describe the type of production that we are moving towards today. According to Hardt these terms combine: “the production of ideas, information, images, knowledges, code, languages, social relationships, affects and the like… (that) designates occupations throughout the economy, from the high to the low, from health-care workers, flight attendants and educators to software programmers and from fast food and call-centre workers to designers and advertisers… Industry has to informationalise; knowledge, code and images are becoming ever more important throughout the traditional sectors of production; and the production of affects and care is becoming increasingly essential in the valorisation process.”[1]

            In the industrial age capitalism was a very tangible thing: production was carried out in factories, that were the symbol of the industrial revolution. For the anti-capitalist/communist revolutions the key was therefore to take control of those factories as well as the factory-like farms and mines that produced the materials that the factories processed.

            But now, in our “immaterial” age, capitalism has taken hold of a very different kind of production, which capitalism itself finds it difficult to trap. The question for capitalism today is: how do we manage to take and maintain a control over information, knowledge, codes and images, as well as affects and care, and turn these things into profit? Likewise, the most pressing question for the anti-capitalist must be: how do we prevent the control and exploitation of these things taking place?

            For us, the main problem here is in the effects socially, culturally and psychologically (or spiritually, if you like) that the capitalisation of the immaterial has had and will have as more and more of our immaterial world is converted into profit making commodities. The mind-set of today’s entrepreneurs is the following: people fall in love – how can we make a profit out of it; people need each other – let’s exploit that need; people hate and fear some other people – there is definitely a profit to be made there; people get ill and die – we can make money from that… etc., etc.. But the essential ingredient in the capitalist system is: people want to measure themselves against other people; people see a lack in themselves measured according to what others have and what enjoyment they have and they want to obtain that lack and that enjoyment for themselves.

            But what capitalism has to sell us is not quality, but quantity. And if we demand quality it must be paid for, it must be made more expensive. But how do we quantify the immaterial which is mainly differentiated according to its quality? Does the quantification of it diminish its quality? If you sell love how do you put a price to it? If you mass produce beauty what happens to the quality of that beauty? If the real quality of lives needs to be measured by immaterial things, what happens when the immaterial loses its own features of quality?

            If we do live in an immaterial age, shouldn’t our fulfilment come from a human embracing of the immaterial itself, rather than the perverted image we have of it that is created by capital?


[1] Michael Hardt, THE COMMON IN COMMUNISM – from THE IDEA OF COMMUNISM, edited by Douzinas and Zizek, Verso, 2010


3 thoughts on “OUR IMMATERIAL AGE

  1. you’re absolutey right about the quantification of aspects that shouldn’t be quantified in the first place. these are problems, e.g. human resources researchers and workers are confronted with. on the one hand each ability could be used, and thus regarded under economical aspects, on the other hand, personality slips into this drawer to be opened and closed, opened and closed… not some convenient thought and practice. 😦 thanks for your precise description and inspiration. 🙂

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