The Capitalism of Absence

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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

During the pandemic, we had more accumulation, more concentration and more growth in the value and power of big techs, which established themselves as stars

On January 3, 2022, Apple became the first company in history to reach the $3 trillion price tag. The figure is equivalent, in approximate numbers, to twice the Brazilian GDP. It's money – and it's money that keeps growing. In a span of 16 months, Apple's value rose 50%, from $2 trillion to $3 trillion. The escalation no longer leaves any doubt about the fact that the center of capitalism is in the so-called big techs, the high-tech giants that have an unrivaled capacity for innovation.

In July last year, the five largest big tech (Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook, which was recently renamed Meta) together hit the $9,3 trillion price tag. Now they are worth more.

During the pandemic, with the sanitary measures of isolation, the five went to heights. They were the companies most prepared to profit from what began to be called “remote work”, and also from the E-commerceWith the e-govern to home office. Your tools have become essential.

In April 2020, there were 4,5 billion people on the planet, in 110 countries, living (or trying to survive) on a lockdown. We were entering an era of virtualities that we did not know: schools, even the recalcitrant ones, had to surrender to distance classes; law firms everywhere have adopted the home office; public services began to be offered online and civil society movements have channeled to digital platforms – and electronic petitions.

A strange period began there, with workers working without appearing at the workplace, citizens exercising their rights without being there, masses on YouTube and dating on WhatsApp. The economy has adapted very well, thank you. There was no catastrophe in the so-called “markets”. What came instead was more accumulation, more concentration and more growth in the value and power of big tech, who established themselves as stars in the capitalism of absence.

We are living through a most intriguing social mutation. In the Industrial Revolution of the XNUMXth century, people spoke of “labor power”. It was this “strength” that the working class sold on the assembly lines. The “work force” was a physical energy fueled by human blood. With it, the proletarians moved gears, screwed screws, pushed carcasses, packages and carts full of coal. Today, the old “work force” seems to be on the sidelines. Capital no longer cares about it, or at least it doesn't care that much. Robotic machines do the work, harvest the cane, weld parts to the fuselage of cars, operate the telemarketing services of life and death.

Now, the interest of capital is focused on other attributes of people. It no longer requires physical strength, but the look, imagination, attention, desire. These attributes no longer have so much to do with the body, with the muscles and the skeleton that supports us, but with the psychic machine. The capitalism of absence – with the big tech at the forefront – developed formulas to explore our most hidden fantasies. This is why, with the crowds confined, the economy has not stopped.

The mode of production in which we are embedded manages to extract value – at a distance – from bodies in a semi-vegetative state, prostrate behind an electronic screen. The only thing that is summoned into activity, in sleeping bodies, is the gaze and the tips of the fingers. Capitalism has sanitized itself. Never has the physical absence of the exploited been such a lucrative solution.

But the great asset of big tech is not in home office, which, by the way, has already become beef (or, in the Brazilian case, it has become beef bone). Today, everyone says they work remotely, including those who don't. The biggest differentiator of large conglomerates, such as Apple and its counterparts, all global monopolists in their branches (or trunks) of activity, was the transformation of consumption into work. In the technology giants' business model, consuming is working.

The so-called “user”, while thinking about enjoying free features, while imagining having fun, is working for free. It is the “user” who “posts” the “contents”, it is the “user” who, unknowingly, provides all his personal data for free (which will later be sold at a price in gold to advertisers), it is the “user ” which, with its look, also gratuitous, sews together the meanings and assimilates the contents of brands and goods. The poor “user” is at the same time the labor and the raw material that come out for free. Then, at the end of the line, it is he, the “user”, who will be marketed. That's what the best deal in all of human history boils down to.

If you want, you can try to be optimistic. You can talk about the healing prodigies of telemedicine and the comfort of playing in the Mega-Sena without leaving home. Nothing against. Just take into account that its absence has been filling large gaps, that is, it has been cramming virtual money into many digital asses.

*Eugenio Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of The superindustry of the imaginary (Authentic).

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul, on January 13, 2022.

 

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