Scarcity and Abundance
Eve, Martin Paul (2017) Scarcity and Abundance. In: Tabbi, Joseph (ed.) The Bloomsbury Handbook of Electronic Literature. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781474230254. (In Press)
One of the clearest reconfigurations wrought by the digital environment is to alter what we perceive of as scarce and what we see as abundant. Why, for instance, consumers around the world might ask, should the pricing of electronic literature supersede those works disseminated in the material codex form? After all, in the digital and electronic space of the internet, we know that the dissemination costs of material are drastically lowered to an extremely low level. We are no longer posting pieces of dead tree around the world for readers, but instead are building a centralized infrastructure that can accommodate all users. In this sense of low distribution costs, we conceive of born-digital literatures as abundant and overflowing, disseminable ad infinitum. However, when such works come into contact with our systems of finance and labour, which are socially scarce (by definition), we then see the restriction as 'artificial', even if, at heart, we know that all our systems of currency must be artificially scarce and limited in order to function. Indeed, it may be that more labour goes into the creation of many works of electronic literature than in traditional publishing processes. Those who would pirate such materials in order to thwart such scarcity may not have technically 'stolen' anything, but they have, as Jaron Lanier put it, undermined the “artificial scarcities that allow the economy to function”. In this chapter, I want to suggest that thinking about what is truly abundant and what is actually scarce can help us to broach at least one part of the problem of value that circles around electronic literature. This value problem is, namely, that time and labour remain scarce in the production and the consumption of electronic literature but also that, in some cases, the points at which the labour of publishing occurs are altered. Indeed, as N. Katherine Hayles notes, asking students to read electronic literature requires up-front signalling from professors about the commensurate time expectations for reading a hypertext such as Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl  as a work of traditional literature, in Hayles's case, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein . What usually goes less remarked upon is the fact that the near-elimination of dissemination costs and barriers does not alter the social situation of work in the world. It just so happens that the digital environment has shifted the work of publishing and authorship solely to the labour to first copy, rather than inhering at equally spaced intervals throughout the process.
|Item Type:||Book Section|
|School:||Birkbeck Schools and Departments > School of Arts > English and Humanities|
|Depositing User:||Martin Paul Eve|
|Date Deposited:||11 Mar 2017 17:33|
|Last Modified:||11 Mar 2017 17:33|
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