September 11, 2004

Slow Pirates #3

You may wish to read Slow Pirates #1 and Slow Pirates #2.

"Smart clothing manifesto"? Please.

As it happens, I'm less interested in cargo pants than in the cultural logic of cargo pants. That is to say: cargo pants are a symptom of a particular disease, in which more and more space is infected with work. The cargo that makes those pockets signify (whether one actually carries them in the pockets, in a purse, in a backpack, whatever; could the dull factualists who think a discussion of a commodity must somehow be a product review, who think this is about gadgets and not about social relations, please click over to Gizmodo or something?) let one work almost anywhere.

Or, to shift away from the Big Nineties viral metaphor toward something a little more classical, the circumstances signaled by the rise of cargo pants are those in which more and more of daily life is a "dominated sector" -- dominated by fairly explicit economic relations. And yet. If we are to consider cargo pants as an extension of habitation more than as mere covering or even fashion -- and my argument is that this is exactly how they ought be considered -- a pair of cargo pants still isn't a tent.

It could be. Cargo pants ought to realize themselves camping in Strawberry Fields, their occupant riding the wifi and cellular waves to and fro. The logic of extreme information environments proffers this as an endgame.

A far more powerful logic says no. The rules of economy in our place and time demand we have that apartment where we go to sleep, and far more important, on which we pay rent. It's not a different prohibition from, for example, New York's so-called "80/20" laws, which prevent the residents of an apartment structure from earning more than 20% of their monthly total real estate costs via ground floor businesses. That prohibition is expressly against live-work collectives, and generally against self-sufficiency. The unstated but inescapable demand is that one must go some place to work, and deliver housing costs elsewhere. This, in short, guarantees both the production of surplus value and the power of landlords. Are you nostalgic for when "Slow Pirates" was just about fashion?

You might note that this prohibition against self-sufficiency (a long echo, as it were, of the shift from use-value to exchange-value) isn't exactly a logic, unless you find the idea of increasingly concentrated wealth and an increasing pool of wage-laborers to be logical (in which case you might want to leave the Chicago School of Economics, it's a very lovely world, there are flowers and many new flavors of ice cream). It's merely a convenient arrangement for a few people who have the power to enforce it. It would be, indeed, a veritable thumbing of one’s nose toward the Jansenists of Port-Royal to call this a logic, so for the moment I'll offer the term form. Society -- ours, now -- takes a form in which technology is not allowed to free one from either labor or rent (here one recalls the fabulous futures promised in the first half of the last century, wherein robots were going to deliver unto us oodles of leisure time; funny how the gear kept coming, but that particular offer was withdrawn into a titanium-plated silence). The promise that tech is allowed to make now is that you can work anywhere so as to live somewhere.

This particular relation is a form because it appears in various circumstances. The one I am interested in just now is the relation that the RIAA would like us to have with music. We are allowed to digitize it, to use it just about anywhere, because we have am MP3 balladeur in our cargo pocket or hanging from a lanyard or strapped to our arm. Music's portability approacheth the infinite. This is fine exactly insofar as we agree to keep paying the fee on the fixed apartment -- I mean, as long as we agree to keep paying the fee on the actual compact disc, the fixed source. The logic of the technology is overpowered by the form of social relations, the one called capitalism.

Frustrating, ain't it? What's it about, exactly? Among other things, it's about speed -- and that's why we'll be the Slow Pirates...

Posted by jane at September 11, 2004 04:55 PM | TrackBack
Comments, the fixed source cd is already gone for people who buy songs off itunes. in fact, the disappearance of hardcopies and capitalism seem to be doing just fine in bed together, all over town. (witness "evergreen," first indie movie beamed via satellite to theaters. 35mm film has 5-10 yrs, if that...) and pirating wifi is not only superfast, but i suspect will become a free public utility, like cops or network tv: the town of philadelphia is about to become the first american free wireless total city. "pirates," in the coolkids against the uncoolcapitalist behemoths sense, are obsolete. i guess you could dress up as one for halloween, with a captain hook mask and your old napster tee, if you're feeling nostalgic.or maybe you could buy an "ipirate" costume from apple to accessorize with your ipod. i think the next subversive move will be heisting bandwidth, not content; cutting out Big Advertising instead of Big Music...

Posted by: gidgetmodo at September 14, 2004 01:21 PM

Please continue...

Posted by: caefu at September 22, 2004 10:35 AM

Jane, where's your blog? I miss it, and so does the blogosphere.

Posted by: Sara at October 16, 2004 02:13 PM


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