Digital Capitalism by Dan Schiller

If you haven’t read “Digital Capitalism” by Dan Schiller, you should. The book contains very interesting insights into the impact of the Internet on education.

Networks are generalizing the social and cultural range of the capitalist economy as never before, which is why Schiller refers to this new period as one of digital capitalism.

One of the Internet’s primary features stems from its unique – and, in its original military context, unlikely – ability to further the goal of information sharing by facilitating common use of once-unbreachable individual domains. Its distinctiveness, and its attraction, lay mainly in its unparalleled ability to span between hitherto isolated computer resources. (9)

During the mid 1990s, however, the sweeping process of commercialization impinged dramatically on the Internet’s scientific and educational function.

The Internet had been overlaid on a domain – education – that was already awash in change. Indeed, it was becoming apparent that the entire established system of skill formation and knowledge creation was heading for a makeover. Where once had existed nonprofit institutions, increasingly, there were now commercial vendors. Where once had existed relatively autonomous instructional and learning processes, increasingly, there were now attempts to cater more directly to labor markets. The system of educational provision was being reoriented toward familiar corporate practices that were foreign to the bulk of earlier educational endeavor: growing utilization of casualized labor, productivity enhancement measures, and product development based on profit and loss potentials. A concurrent and related reform, toward school-to-work programs, lifelong learning, and “new partnerships,” symptomatized an intensifying vocationalization of the educational process. (144)

Recurrent education – lifelong learning, its proponents termed it, as if human beings were capable of anything else – instead became the watchword. What Newt Gingrich called the “responsibility of the learner” indeed would be paramount; individuals would have to master whatever skills they might come to need – or take the consequences. Thus a program that had been initially introduced as a paternalistic measure was transmuted into a neoliberal justification for increased insecurity. (159)

In this rapidly changing and consistently difficult context, administrators bruited a standard set of institutional strategies. One was a much-vaunted New Partnership with industry. By 1986, in an unprecedented “cooperative boom,” the number of joint ventures between industry and academe reached “all-time highs” and embraced “large and small businesses, public and private colleges, major research universities and local community colleges in every state.” (161)

Universities it must be stressed, were active parties to the growth of these knowledge factories. Academic and business enterprises had enjoyed long and often mutually profitable associations. They shared board directors who helped to determine policies for both institutions. And they shared professional personnel who intermingled through scientific, scholarly, and trade associations. (162)

Perhaps more significant was the internal reorganization of the university that accompanied its programmatic enlargement of profit-oriented ventures. True, only a small fraction of university research projects would end up generating significant commercial revenues – perhaps one in four hundred – but the scramble to increase royalty revenue and, indeed, the New Partnership overall, vitally influenced the evolving shape and character of the university. (163)

Administrators often sought to portray reorganization that ensured as an effort at cost efficiency. Yet the term actually portended a radical overhaul of governing priorities, as higher education’s cost structure, program goals, and educational practices began to be continually reviewed and altered. (164)

The chief impact of ‘the second information revolution’ will be…on education,” wrote management guru Peter Drucker in 1997: “In thirty years, education will look wholly different, not only in delivery but in content.” The issue, therefore, was not simply the installation of bundles of inert wiring and computer equipment. It was, rather, adaptation to the ensemble of changed socioeconomic relationships that was energized by emerging network applications. (170)

With the growing importance of education and training for modern industry, the fiscal crisis afflicting universities, and the proliferation of information technology throughout the home, the school, the factory, and the office, the stage was set for networked educational markets to burgeon. At every level, from preschool and remedial to doctoral and crafts-based education, and in an endless variety of genres and formats, both old and new, networked educational provision furnished alluring prospective entry points for profit-making companies. (171)

Unfolding was a generalized process of institutional change. Management guru Peter Drucker declared, in a widely cited verdict, that universities on the old model “won’t survive.” While textbooks ran chronically short in poor school districts, and while some 200 traditional colleges shut their doors over the decade to 1997, politicos and corporate executives prattled on about the need to wire up additional “cyberschools.” “We want to redesign the entire learning process to fit the Information Age,” summarized Newt Gingrich. (200)

Watch: Annenberg Research Seminar – Dan Schiller, University of Illinois, at Urbana Champaign

One thought on “Digital Capitalism by Dan Schiller

  1. I agree completely with this article. Using such things as social commerce will help, please take a look at such solutions.

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