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The Producer as A Power User
By Pit Schultz
Published on 07/24/2007
‘The apparatus will be the better the more consumers it brings in contact with
the production process - in short, the more readers or spectators it turns into
collaborators.’ (Walter Benjamin)

The Online Producer as a Power User

Within the circumstances of today’s media networks it is impossible to not produce. The classical dichotomy of production and consumption has been melted down by the circuits of communication and given birth to what marketing calls the prosumer.

Also known as power user, neither professional nor amateur, neither hobbyist nor self-employed, between sofa and kitchen table, sometimes expert, sometimes dilettante, leaving the suburbs and moving to the city centres or the countryside, using trains and airplanes but not owning a car. Living from project to project and shifting between unemployment and immediate wealth, the power user has left the factories and of.ce buildings long ago to stay home and be the post-industrial anti-hero.

On the thin surface of the heavy layers of well developed old technologies, this prototype of the knowledge worker, grew up to become a collective role model for the rest of us and began to transform the boundaries of industrial labour, turning it into an ambigious .eld of totalised work ethics. Everyone is a power user now, dependent on the degree of participation in the global communication apparatus.

Colonisation of the web space
Through the intensified use of the networked computer, the subjectivity of the power user colonises space as far as the networks go. Being digital is constituted by an auto-referential mode of production which has transformed the workplace into a permanent state of mind, organised into thin slices of valuable work time.

Like a CPU, the brain now functions as the ultimate desktop where every thought might be useful and therefore needs to be recorded to be organised better. With genetics, the code of life has become a commodity, and the power user gains access to her ultimate eugenic self-optimisation, hacking the body-machine.

This pattern of total productivity is not only defined by the success of its results but also by the entirety in which it dominates everyday living standards and permeates every aspect of a life on the screen. There are areas of optimisation, and areas of contemplation, but one is never free of production, of having to communicate and report, of having to learn to embrace
new standards; or leaving trails of usage, just to be able to take part in the global production of affective and intellectual labour14 and subjectify according to the expected profits.

The production of the power user
Consuming power and being consumed by it, the power user reproduces the force .elds of the network, as well as being effected and formed by them. In the literal sense of the word, the power user takes more from a certain power than
others: she might be a heavy user, a hardcore gamer, or a machine addict, a linux-hacker, driven by a desire to know and to gain control over the power which in reverse is controlling her.

What distinguishes power users from average users or uninitiated newbies is the depth of practical experience with the
relatively unknown and unsystematised areas of techni.cation. This knowledge is uncertain by de.nition; it mostly centres around extending adminstrative control, and establishes a semi-stable status of alpha testing, where idea and implementation are in a maximum flux of exchange, and the gain and loss of control can be repeatedly re-experienced.

As a gardener of her own media archive,16 the power user begins with the cultivation of a private archaeology of knowledge. It is here, in the enclosure of electronic loneliness,17 where the mediation with technical changes takes place at first, and only from this point on, the power user is paradoxically able to re-enter the gift economy of the public domain again.

The mediator to popular media and culture
At the forefront of the still ongoing cybernetic modernisation, the power user serves as an unpaid research and development unit, as a mediator to popular media culture, and a sensitive prototype of sociotechnical exploration.

In many cases the power user is self-trained, almost making a living out of her skills, beyond productivity in an industrial sense, without being responsible for a speci.c product or task.

She is primarily dedicated to her own individualisation, the customisation of the extended self in relation to other power users, in the form of an ongoing system con.guration. Usually not too much involved as a developer, the power user actively contributes to the deployment of software tools by finding new uses for them, or documenting errors, and therefore inscribing herself into the collective process. She lives on the back end and insides of cybernetic circuitry, and constantly con.gures and expands it as essential parts of the household.

On behalf of technological determinism, it is easy to think it’s cool to be a power user, but there is a price to pay: unique authorship dissolves in the technical reproduction of subjectivity, into a set of management strategies. Entering a new era of industrialisation, the craftmanship of the digital artisan makes space for the customisation skills of the power user, within a
more and more standardised and modularised corporate information service environment.

Between the avarage user and the IT pro
Becoming an expert, functioning between the average user and the I.T. professional, the power user marks a transitional state of computer literacy, which socially buffers the imperfections of current technologies, but also generates a type of sleeping knowledge in which an economic potential is generated without the need for .nancial rewards.

Power users form the waiting reserve of unpaid labour in a networked environment of digital knowledge production. Their specialisation through intensi.ed usage is a model for other computerised work areas, such as .lm editing, music production, game development or journalistic production.

The unpaid labour of the power user is not only legitimated through the need for lifelong learning or the chance to gain
access to specialised expertise, but mainly by social reputation, deriving from the tangible and intangible aspects of the production of life quality. By putting themselves into the voluntary service of new media technologies, they gain
more media freedom. For the maximisation of this yet unbound productivity, the access to the means of production needs to be as universal and open as possible.

The unpaid power user and the highly paid expert
The defining threshold which sets the entry line between the unpaid labour of the power user and the highly paid services of the knowledge expert, is no longer entirely constructed by the traditional institutions of knowledge production, such
as the university.

The global network itself became the educational environment for those without direct access to the institutions. The involvement in free and open projects, from where the power user not only builds up a reputation, but also gains crucial skills, can easily equal the value of an academic degree.

This type of distributed expert knowledge is of a more pragmatic and immanent kind, more webbed into social fabrics, trial and error and thick description, than the one describable in handbooks and how-to guides. While the quality of of.cial education is suffering pressure from the mass production of academic experts, the massive self-education of power users creates a new and growing class of google intellectuals, who can only know as much as is available in the open, establishing a new economy of words from the bottom up.

What power users also produce is the negativity of demand: missing links, feature requests,
unreacheable goals and unrealised ideas. Power users form a ghost army of pricelessness, in a last big battle of the copywars, where academic science might become dependent on them.

The self discipline of the power user
The order which controls the life of the power user derives from a computerised form of self-discipline. In exchange for her submission she is granted access to the platforms of free exchange.

Her daily routines are structured by networked environments, the rhythm of digital media such as mobile phones, news blogs,
the permanent build-up of private archives, interrupted only by technical malfunctions, which are happily accepted as welcome challenges for individual creativity.

The power user is a voluntary fille clerk in the global open archives; her singularity is embedded into a truly encyclopaedic digital commons. Her contributions to the means of production are a necessary part of the general media architecture, which she keeps alive as a cultural infrastructure. To be productive, her contributions, private or public, critical or af.rmative, need to
remain free gifts to generate the surplus on which other advanced services and enclosures can be built upon.

The ambiguity of this low end info-communism in the eye of the hurricane of world wide integrated capitalism, has become
one of the major resources of the neo-liberal knowledge economy and can be described as both revolutionary and reactionary.


Riding the top of the gaussian curve of social consensus production, the power user does not mark any source of originality, but serves as a redirector, a filter, aplimplifier, repeater, reporter and commentator of actualities. Travelling possibility space, she is processing and commenting upon news, in collaboration with other power users, as a fabrication of facts, to cover the structural uncertainty of the media society, e.g. the social risk to fall off the edges or stay behind.

She says: ‘I post so I am’, frequently actualising her binary existence by publishing and posting, so more links go to and from her name and address. The power user dreams of the singularity of the author, which she gave up for a passion for engineering. Interestingly, the cross referencing of digital citation coincides with a growing production of books and papers, as if the material carrier would provide a better insurance against future memory loss and individual disappearance.

The accumulative result of panic publishing is the establishment of a radical mediocrity in intellectual production, where more and more redundant work is produced for the mere sake of the legitimation of the authors.

In this process of constant enclosures, the new author turns into a journalist of everything, an entrepreneur with himself as the main product, a frequent chronicist of his own biography, an under-cover con-artist and encyclopaedic archive gardener who can be hired for anything which might generate temporary market interests.

Measouring quality
As the power user forms a quasi-autonomous unit with her machines, the quality of her production is at first only measured by herself. The tasks of administration and maintaining, self-employment and constant re-education, configuring
and repairing, testing and improving, applies at first only to the systems of an extended self, not driven by an autopoietic ‘l’art pour l’art’ but a self-suf.ciant digital craftmanship aiming at the expansion and optimisation of the entirety of the productive process through the recon.gurations, explorations and improvements of the individual units.

The power user is also a power consumer: she participates in an actual economy of cash to enjoy the updating of her
gadgetry, credit card payments of fiights and services, of storage and bandwidth costs. Checking prices online and evaluating the potential of new goods, reselling used equipment on online auctions, recommending and even customising to find new uses. The legal greyzones populated by power users, are an expression of opportunity and parasitical subversion of brutal market growth.

By joining peer-to-peer networks or fan-groups and exchanging warez and tips and tricks, the power user enhances the mere distribution of commodities, and turns them into a participatory, economically reproductive form of digital lifestyle.

Peer to peer networks
As the permanent exchange between sender and receiver, between server and client, has become the primary source of digital productivity, the power user has to integrate them in her ego design process.

Constructed as a leaking container of commercial cultural content, peer-to-peer networks become sources of ‘shared identity’. Driven by their hunter-gatherer instincts, power users cannot get enough of free content; they are liberal enough to traverse different levels of resistant production, and reprocess minority politics and psychosocial deliquency as ‘hybrid identities’, which are generously hosted by the system for the sake of diversity and innovation. From the other side, jurisdiction and commerce reestablishes the order of individual rights and their restrictions.

Power users are the organic intellectuals who work between the frontlines on social implementations of upcoming standards, and expand and test their acceptability. They also socially develop new work disciplines, job models, and cultural killer applications. The model of legitimation of the double bind of this emerging hacker class is symptomatic for the rest of society. In order to modulate and redirect power relations, the power user has to legitimate her access to power as a critical one.

By refering to the forces of technical revolution and the crisis it leads to, she is betting on tactical reformism as an opportunity for individual freedom. At the centre of this double bind between technology and capitalism stands the relation to property and authorship, in which the power user works both on her own dissolvement as well as re-establishment.

The affirmative vs the critical user
There are two different types of power users, affirmative ones  and critical ones.

The af.rmative power user operates as a singularised entity of intensi.ed use and micro-self-publishing, who then, by learning more, join flocks of loose and interlinked groupings, and develops a sense of togetherness. Dependent on the degree of desire for such a community, she joins the forming of sub-groups, where in an antagonism against and within the host system, she turns into a critic.

As a critical opponent, she supports the community of the like-minded with plans to change the host system, and the critique becomes an expression of the growing self-awareness of her own class. As an af.rmative member she chooses competition in favour of individual optimisation and uses the integration for means of ef.ciency. It is rare that the power user is not critical
and af.rmative at once and it is here, in the social field, where power unfolds with the most forceful ruptures, ready to be reprocessed into its symbolic forms again.

Finally, unable to distinguish between me and we, the power user speaks of herself in plural. Tactically transmutating between multiplicity and singularity, her oscillating condition of mind has become identical with the modes of production which define her.

The sovereign media
There are no sovereign media.

The more excluded or invisible a group, the more interesting it becomes for representation. The more violent the fight, the more self-destructively it resists representation, the more difference it produces, so the media sets its focus of investigation to the maximum.

Terrorism is the continuation of communication with other means to send ‘messages without words’. Total mediation does not allow any outside, any existence in the shadows; it only allows unrepresentable noise, chaos, decay and disintegration - or a peaceful life in a subordinated normality. Therefore the line of the outside becomes the centre of attention. Focusing on the extremes of catastrophy and violence, the uncanny chaos becomes symbolised and fixed in a commodity value exchange, and economy ultimately turns into a matter of faith.

The power user serves as an active agent of mediation: she works on the overlappings of old and new electric media, and tests the boundaries of the new interfaces between internet, television, radio, telephony and other gadgetry for a possible answer. As free capitalism enlightened by free media aims at the total domination of space and time, the power user delivers to the all-seeing eye, as it operates on its surface through image media, to objectify what it ‘sees’, and what it sees is what you want.

The non profit end of the production spectrum
The expected growth of open archives at the non profit end of the spectrum exceeds commercial growth by orders of magnitude because the intensity of exchange is much larger than in a closed learning environment. The power user marks a change of the function of the author in such a collecti.ed mode of production and is described by a prolonged list of last authors.

Any enterprise in the future which operates on the basis of knowledge production will have to rely partly on ‘free and open’ resources, as a foundation of their business power.

As a contributor the power user remixes modes of production, consumption and distribution, maximising communicative participation. Therefore the power user becomes the new ideal of education in a democratic media culture. This new type of authorship is more factory-like, more collective, based on an imaginary predictability of ‘free will’ and constant competition, a combination of the dreams of info-capitalism and soviet constructivism. Its openings and enclosures are dialectically entangled; none of them exists without the other.

Power Users vs Hackers
The power user is the opposite of the hacker; she does not want to get ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the system, but stays at her place to deepen her knowledge.

Only the collectivisation of these singular ‘boreholes of insight’ overcomes the traps of a production process which collapses in the .nal goal of a fabricated individualism, as an advanced part of capitalistic production, and the establishment of a radically
mediocre authorship within very constrained and predictable boundaries.

The second criteria of change is the equivalent of what was called consciousness before, but is today rather a media process than a psychological one. In effect, the media architecture of the information and communication infrastructure has replaced the discursive function of the psychic apparatus, and clarity can only be regained in the plurality of a parliament of things.

This is the radical conversion of Descartes’ ‘cogito’, and the first trials of a truly planetary politics are still tinkering around how to outsmart the ‘other’. The current defence of conservative fundamentalism can only be a phase of transition and the symbolic
death in which capitalistic production culminates; it cannot remain a means in itself. Driven by the will to knowledge,48 the power user will ultimately empower herself by giving the power of knowledge away.

The more intellectual property is collectified, the more sources are open, the more a critical mass of free knowledge becomes possible. Pit Schultz