Rare minerals? Great laptops! - What we value in digital devices supports a capitalist system
Kempen, A.H. van
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The materiality of digital devices is heavily under-researched and under-mentioned within academia as well as in society. Researchers in geography and ecology have shown the importance of the topic yet the focus within new media studies is often on the possibilities of the devices and software instead. This shows a neglect of production processes that are often based in postcolonial and capitalist circumstances. The way we think and speak about digital devices impacts the material reality including production processes, energy use, waste disposal and human labour conditions. To understand how we value digital devices I conducted a critical discourse analysis based on Fairclough’s (1995, 2013) perspective originating from Marxist thought. This allows me to understand to what extent the way we value digital devices is interrelated with a capitalist system. Focusing on the micro practices that are visible on platforms that recommend certain laptops over others in critical discourse study, makes it possible to understand the macro structures these are dependent on. Micro covers the smaller practices and utterances that are based in macro power structures like a capitalist system. My understanding is that we all participate in a reproduction of valuation. The way we actively value and revalue and therefore treat digital devices impacts the whole system. My analysis shows that the main discourse in the Netherlands shows a very capitalist way of presenting devices. Its most powerful platforms naturalise abstract, short-term, end-user focused attributes such as speed, capacity and looks whereas production circumstances are not mentioned. Even ‘critical’ platforms that review selling platforms are heavily entrenched in a capitalist way of valuation. Counter-platforms do show more ethical values and fight for people, environment and sustainability. There is a big gap between these ways of valuation that seems impossible to align. We need big changes, discursive and material, in order to change the current system. This thesis shows in which ways powerful consumer-focused media currently do the opposite and maintain the capitalist system instead.