Upgrade culture – Attention economy and

eco-ethical perspectives

Mc-1, 2015-16


  • Attention Economy and Eco-Ethical Perspectives (2015-2016)

– Next week is non-teaching week: Go over blogs and feedback

– Film by Adam Kurtis: “Hyper-normalisation” (BBC IPlayer)

– Permanent mediated experience: maximise profitability of experience/activity

– Extension to upgrade culture, essential to modern industrial capitalism culture

– War for innovation was of technoscientific innovation

-Industrial capitalism and upgrade culture


What is an ‘upgrade’?

– When you attempt to improve or add to something, like adding a better lens to a camera.

– Emphasis on improved quality and improved efficiency

– Innovating, bringing available technology to the maximum

– Creation of a better product that is already existing

– Always proposed to be better, not always necessarily true (assumption)

– Better newer or faster than a current model (product)

– Expanding on the idea of a ‘product’

– Monetised forms of living can be improved and upgraded

‘Upgrade’ precedents

  • ‘This year’s model’
  • Fashion
  • ‘Planned Obsolescence’
  • (from industrial policy to marketing principle)

– Waterproof, effects

-Better camera; tech upgrades

– Incorporating other aspects and convergence of different objects with varying uses.

– All moves quite fast, bob

– Spacey, ethereal, heavenly, dreamy music

– Black screen, experience is being evoked through music, voice,

– Exerts confidence and trust, contemporary voice speaking to you personally; engagement (Samsung knows exactly who you are and what you want)

– How the add creates meaning and creates a pitch for this product 


  • Freemium model: apps, online databases, services
  • ‘DLC’ eg. Battlefield 4 controversy

– Upgrades have been around forever; inherited in the logic of capitalism

– 20th century; explicit project and aim

– Today’s contemporary upgrade culture; new device/product needed every year

– Fashion industry; luxury items; only for the elite then you can have the money to get personally made

– Industrial age; commodity form accessible widely

– Things have to be the latest: fashion is the definition of upgrade (think seasons and annual cycles within the clothing industry)

  • Leasing
  • Rolling contracts
  • Always be ready for latest upgrade

– As soon as something becomes fashionable its old and out of date

– Things come around again and again, notice when things come back

– 60s this was noticed; consumer advocates/critics Vance Packard etc. (production of waste)

– System that designs obsolesces/waste > keep consumption levels to match the producers speed and demands

– Somehow newer and better?

– 20s and 30s develop in an American context, we need to support planned obsolesce to ensure that the economy remains strong; marketing

– Ripping us off?

– Grey areas, and debate around how explicit planned obsolescence is, also about through marketing and strong advertising campaigns encourage to think that people need the newest products

– New vehicles are rolled out every year with minimal change;

– Upgrade culture, monetised commodities

– Freemium model (free to play, in-app purchases, premium versions

– Copying this upgrade culture, release main game and then offer premium DCL to get upgrades and maps, released premium same time as the game. (people asked to buy the game twice)

– Using upgrade model with the business model, revenue will sustain over a longer time (constant stream is desired)

Logic of coordination of consumption

  • 1930s: Crisis of over-production
  • Rise of PR, Marketing, Ad Agencies etc
  • ‘Designing desire’
  • Cf Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self


– Becoming more prominent, revenue stream from products and services are continuous

– Hire purchase? Leasing prices? e.g. Mobile services and car lease

– 02 guaranteed upgrade every year; brilliant upgrade model (phone becomes a service rather than a product)

– Upgrade culture logic, maintaining enormous productive capacity

– Anxiety around over production, what happens if people are already satisfied?

– Concepts like regulating core consumption and production, advertising gives information about services and products (designing your desire to impulse buy, conditioned and framed to already want that product before you have even thought about it)

– Buy things in order to establish identity

– Public relations and marketing

– Edward Bernays (cousin of Sigmund Freud) theories of desire, examined marketing and desire

-propaganda was a bad word because of Germany: public relations

-Mass Industrialised American society

– Manipulation of the unconscious, information drives the mind (factual information drives decision, doesn’t work like that)

– Persuaded women to smoke (taboo)

– A. A. Brill (cigarettes were symbolic of the male penis (challenging male power) powerful and independent

-“Torches of freedom”

– Symbol (young women smoking a cigarette, torches of freedom, liberty (people had to support it, draws on emotion, memory and rational togetherness)

– Made cigarette socially acceptable

– Make people behave irrationally if you link irrelevant object with powerful emotional symbols (if you sell products to emotion they will sell) engaging themselves through products

– Mobilised desires, self-identity, hope and expectations (emotionality)

– Product isn’t a rational choice, more emotion based instead of factual

– Getting an offer, well trained to discard and waste products

– Marketing promotions to incite, split between companies and products; platform war between corporations.

– Has a social pressure, social and cultural capital and status it’s about you, not just the phone’s technology.

– ‘Family Upgrades’ – social events

– Draw on nostalgia and memory

– Very flexible and alert to people’s needs and desires to control consumption

Contemporary Developments

  • Globalized economies, ‘technoculture’
  • ‘Information’ , ‘post-industrial’, ‘immaterial’ economy –

Key elements: services, ideas, innovation, intellectual property, new connectivities, communications

  • Expansion of upgrade logics globally

Extension into new fields of activity/society

Digital, networked ‘integration’ 

– Apple: old company still very prevalent

– Production disappears to china and south-east Asia

– Industry is no longer the centre of advanced economy, about design and immaterial things and notions

– Immaterial economy, more products more than ever

– Globalised economy, expansion/morphing of upgrade culture that becomes globally extended

– All kind of services, experiences and products become integrated and convergent, monetizing people’s social life.

Eg. The ‘viral’ and viral marketing

  • Social phenomenon: autonomous, ‘organic’ ‘real’ ?

…And/or marketing goal?

  • Viral video farming:
  • Rude Tube,
  • Ridiculousness, etc.

– Social media services market, shared media and communications have become monetised, potentially valuable marketing revenue. (networked effect)

– Piggy backing on the viral

– Deliberately designed to go far

Eg. ‘Attention economy’

  • Consumer/user’s attention is key ‘resource’
  • Competition for limited brain capacity
  • Exploitation of user/buyer ‘labour’
  • Beyond ‘selling eyeballs to Advertisers’
  • Crary, 24/7operation;
  • Expanding to all areas of life:

Social, romantic, leisure, business,


– 90s digital evolution, not about information but rather an attention, information is now free and liberated; this is the new way ahead, commodified attention

– Not from providing information but rather captivating attention (monetised that)

– Google, amazon, eBay, etc. profit from people being on your side and not on theirs

-Mass mediums, competing in a market for attention, google is king (captured total market of search engines)

– There are other ways into information, capture to sell attention

– TV advertising > ratings

– Capturing people on your platform

“Platform capitalism”  Cf Nick Srnicek


  1. Scroll to bottom for video

 But: ‘Attention’ Economy is Material not immaterial

  • Your attention is linked to the labour of others, as part of economic and ecological complex systems
  • Your digital technological online identities, social networks, etc are ‘real’ and material and globally extended
  • Slavoj Zizek coming to Bristol for festival of ideas

– Slavoj Zizek on kinder surprise egg, astonishing commodity, cause of your desire materialised; delicate balance between 2 dimensions, chocolate frame is not there to send you on a deeper voyage (another way around, aim at higher goal, enjoy the surface

– The commodity is magic, industrial production, comes to you separate, industry makes things mass, your dislocated from that; products had a different sense.

– Use value and product and exchange value e.g. Mobile phone, ring friends, take pictures etc.  (important but the exchange value becomes more crucial)

– Exchange value (why are people prepared to spend this amount of money for my product)

– How to do maximise the exchange value, different and special but very similar

– Focus on that, you have a commodity, how much value can you invest in that product

– Pay 2X the cost price, give cultural capital, economic capital, buying knowledge and sophistication

– Knowing what to buy, what is a classy purchase?

– Use value is less significant/important, commodity fetishism: rationalising you purchase

– Evade attention in the attention economy, works as a balance on attention and non-attention, reliance on production, resources, transportation etc.

– Digital techno and identity


  • Sy Taffel: Think connections between materials, energy, communications, thoughts, desires, experiences
  • Between people, things, systems, natural elements (animal, mineral, vegetable)
  • ‘I’ is not an island nor is it floating in a pure virtual wonderland….

– Material / immaterial, psychological (assemblage theory)

– Think about everyday life as global and unusual ways

Material not immaterial

– All these devices we have depend on material resources that come out of the ground, limitations on how much is available; will run out (perpetual crisis)

– As they become rare, then become more expensive, owe possibly of these devices to tantalum

Material not immaterial

– Bought resources, Congo: troubles region with unstable government (warlord factions) so far from a regulated mining situation, exploitation, murder etc.

– Inevitably have to get these tantalum supply from their

Rare Earth Elements mining & radiation toxicity

– Toxicity and radiation, processed out of regulation, not monitored or tested.

-Western/major international corporations

Global Warming

  • In 2007, estimates indicate that the global ICT industry was responsible for approximately 2% of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.… According to a study undertaken by the United Nations University in 2004, producing a desktop computer and 17inch CRT monitor uses approximately 240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg of various chemicals and 1500kg of water. These inputs are similar to those required to manufacture a mid-sized motor vehicle. 81% of the life cycle energy cost of the computer was used in production with only 19% required for operation. The ratio occurs partially because of the complexity of the manufacturing processes and the variety of materials and components required, but also due to the highly limited lifespan of media hardware within the cultural context of upgrade culture


Dirty clouds

– Data production saved in clouds, capturing and mining attention > demanding a phenomenal amount of energy (google farms)

Recycling and De-manufacture

  • Eg: in Mexican ‘maquiladoras’
  • Consumer goods: TVs (ionized gases, mercury in plasma screen tvs, lanthanides (in Liquid Crystal Displays) ; Lithium, lead-acid batteries…etc.



– Quasi-automatic/ valuable thing that can be recycled and reused (unregulated process again)

– These products are global and unregulated in large areas of the world. E.g. Children and families picking apart these products highly dangerous > no research on the severity (demanufacturisation)

  • Nobody wants to know…
  • Electronics recycling: waste/the object, removed from sight


– Production and recycling goes other places; out of side, out of mind

– Devices that provides special services experience and what this means to you as a consumer


  • Feel guilty? Maybe, maybe not.
  • ‘Responsibility’?
  • Consumer?
  • Consumer identity construction/design
  • ‘Economy’ as concept vs ecological thinking:

Economy and other systems: cultural, environmental, political/legal, geographical, religious/ethical, etc…

– Inattention (fundamental to the success of the “Attention economy”

– Products and upgrades conditions a particular understanding of mediated lives, how are they connected to other dimensions of the world

  • Thinking about ourselves as consumers is an important dimension of that
  • Responsibility?
  • Damage? Systemic relations with such things, marketing, promotion.

The Exercise:

  • You have 40 minutes
  • Find some marketing material (video, poster, ‘viral’, gamified promotion) for an upgrade
  • Analyze its construction of desirability of the upgrade.

 I.e. Examine:

Image, sounds, text, their combination

(hint: like an expanded ‘discourse analysis’)

Meet back here to present your analysis

Skyrim Special Edition;

  • New version with improved graphics



  • “Free to play” but you have to pay for particular items, maps and quests



  • Appeals to a specific and established audience / demographic

– Compared the both Skyrim and Rune Scape, neither of them have a voice over, because of there is an emphasis on gameplay graphics; (upgrade culture of a different platform) indicative of different techniques spread across different platforms/product

– Music used in actual game, recognised convergence and consistency, cheesy nostalgic

– Builds up and breaks into actions based music with action shot

– Editing, fits with action on screen

-Goes with the graphics, techy, fast paced, action

– Wide angle shots, focusing on wider game planes rather than small textures and detail, see NPC but not “player/user characters”

– “Spectacular water effect” reflecting panning outward on the water, demonstrated graphic capabilities, they are still improved,

– “Dynamic light” swoops/curves quickly (adds drama) to show “and shadows”

– All shots are high up> advertising locations, creates a god like omnipresence in relation to the game, you can choose which trajectory to take, picking and choosing tasks and quests to complete when and how you want to

– Enhanced experience of game play, promising immersion within its traditional boundaries of nostalgia

RuneScape is famous for its nostalgic and aged appearance

– “Better performance than ever”

– It doesn’t buy into particularly high end graphics because it draws on nostalgia and historic memories on early game play

– Cuts off at the end music cuts off to silence shows the release date of the new client ending with a two shot scene (colour temperature is really different) fades out. Makes you think about it more

– Freemium model