Academic Publishing and the University Press Revolution

As it currently stands, the publishing infrastructure is deeply beholden to academic journals who hold so much power that they are able to charge universities exorbitant fees for access to their content. These journals do not compensate the authors of the material they then peddle to libraries, placing this responsibility onto the universities that employ the researchers. Universities effectively pay twice for this content: paying their faculty to research and publish, and, then, paying journals for access to the materials their faculty created. Fitzpatrick presents the case that while these publishing houses do offer value, the degree to which they control how academic publishing is done is an untenable regime that must eventually topple.

How this revolution will come about is yet to be seen but Fitzpatrick provides a few suggestions. A university press can publish the work of its own faculty in order to have access to this material both cheaply and with far greater control over how that material can be distributed and maintained. A university press can also prioritize open access for peer-review and publishing, generating an environment that spurs greater involvement of the field while avoiding the pitfalls of vanity press.

Fitzpatrick claims that services, not access, will be vital to the open access method of publishing. This means that institutions providing these services (i.e., libraries) will become the integral in deciding whether the university press is viable. While this may be true after a substantial amount of progress is made in making academic research available through open access, it is certainly not the case now nor will it be true until the relationship between the university and academic presses is transformed. Specifically, the power that these publishing houses have is far too great and universities are complicit in amplifying that power. I would argue that a university press will not be necessary if the academic fields collectively refuse to pay. If Nature is slowly but firmly excluded from our databases, the appeal of publishing in Nature will inevitably diminish.

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Gamification, Exploitation, and Games – Ian Bogost

Ian Bogost shines a dim light on the recent trend in product and service development around quantifying user experience, a trend he calls “exploitationware.” He begins his article by speaking about this trend by its more commonly used name, “gamification,” and focuses his argument on the “game” as well as the “-ify” qualifier added to it. I see issues with both aspects of his argument but will limit my provocation to just one: the linkage between gamification and games, and Bogost’s treatment of games as magical and powerful entities.

First, I’d like to point out that the type of exploitative behaviors that Bogost condemns in the implementation of gamification is widespread in game design itself. Studies have shown that many “free-to-play” games – a pricing model that rakes in millions despite the use of the term “free” – are structured around techniques employed by gambling services to entice their customer to spend as much money as possible over a long period of time via small impulsive payments that cumulatively grow beyond what the same customer might spend in a single large sum. Considering that many of these games are marketed towards children, I consider this the epitome of exploitation.

Second, while the terminology around gamification does include many game-related concepts such as points, I do not see games themselves as being the motivators of non-gaming industries adopting gamification techniques. Whether in the case of frequent flyer miles, the number of followers on your Instagram, or the leaderboards your smartwatch displays after every run, these services and products are not being “gamified” but, rather, are being made more interactive through the quantification of the level of interaction that the consumer engages in. These techniques exist in simple methods such as the card from the coffee shop that records — and rewards — my purchases and are not at all directly linked to games themselves. Games can avoid using those methods and are just as likely, if not more so, to be exploitationware when they don’t.

Marx, Harvey, and Engels – Is Money a Fatal Error?

In thinking about materialist theories of technology, a conscious effort to remember the Darwinian model of evolution is essential, especially for the work of Marx. David Harvey points out the total-system approach that lies beneath the detailed writings in Capital about labor, technology, class struggle, and nature. In “The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man” Engels provides an even more easily digestible explanation of how this total-system approach accounts for the origin of modern humans – an origin that, Engels argues, is causally linked to labor. Engels begins by stating “labour created man himself.” With the freedom to use their hands, early humans developed the ability to create tools, which led to use complex sounds for cooperation and sophisticated cognitive processes for planning. (This being the result of what he calls the “law of correlation of growth.”)

With these unique capabilities, man became master over nature. But, as tools evolved and themselves became increasingly sophisticated, the relationship between man and the process of production changed dramatically: a social division of class separated those who owned the means of production (capitalists) and those who provided the necessary labor for the creation of commodities (workers). This division was caused not by machinery but, rather, by the use of money as a store of value, which allowed capitalist to transform labor from the defining human characteristic by which subsistence is assured into a mechanism that fed itself on surplus value and profit through the exploitation of the working class.

Does Marx view money as a virus that has infected the Hegelian “totality” to which Harvey alludes? Or, is it an unexpected outcome of man’s mastery over nature produced by the law of correlation of growth? I cannot see a reasonable place for money as it exists in a capitalist society within a materialist view of human history; It occurred like a glitch in a computer system, focusing all attention – and intention – towards the repeated task of generating wealth ad infinitum with only momentary crashes that serve as system reboots. Marx would argue that this is how capitalist society becomes unsustainable eventually leading to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. But, the power that money holds and its effect on the system as a whole calls into question the validity of using a materialist theory as a framework for understanding the process of production.

What Is To Be Done? – Provocation

The question of “what is to be done?” is aptly used in the title of this published interview with Donna Haraway about her seminal feminist work A Cyborg Manifesto. Published in 1985, Manifesto brought together radical and socialist feminist theories to address the impact of technology and information systems on labor, race, and gender among other topics. The work was primarily a call to action, beckoning readers to abstain from pessimism regarding communications technologies and biotechnologies and a fetishizing of the organic, as well as to avoid what she calls the “blissed-out” futurist notions of human-machine hybridization that attempt to destroy humanity as an organic species. Instead, Haraway insists that humans are capable of reworlding the structures that comprise the various relationalities defining humanity while maintaining the histories and mythologies that preceded the rise of the cyborg.

Haraway uses this interview (published in 2006) to reflect on Manifesto in numerous ways including how her metaphoric cyborg allowed for a creation of the companion species – a more practical representation of personhood after the boundaries between man, animals, machines, and metaphysical qualities have been resolved. The issue of practicality – of instances where cyborg feminism has played out “on the ground” – becomes an important aspect of Manifesto after having read this interview because the latter emphasized that which can be realized through the unified theory as it is presented in the former. The work of reconfiguring gender outside the masculine/feminine binary without attempting to dissolve gender politics altogether and the creation of object-oriented ontology are possible products of Haraway’s Manifesto. But, I see few other repercussions in how humanity defines itself in relation to its hybridized composition (not to mention how personhood relates to technology and information) because individual agency has a limited reach and a social movement that acknowledges the diffusion of boundaries requires that the movement be through a collective, not a fragmented collection. Just as Haraway herself points out, the cyborg is frequently the offspring of the military complex, the commodified deconstruction of life, and of scientific culture. Thus, can the cyborg truly be free of origin and, therefore, free to participate in the production and reproduction of themselves and their societies?