Media and communication

Flattr & CouchSurfing I: What happens to payment in the digital world?

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CouchSurfing and Flattr shows us what happens when new forms of communication occurs and social structures are challenged. Payment in the form of money for an item has long been a dominant norm in our capitalist culture, but with the Internet’s infrastructure clearly has been disrupted. Networks such as CS and Flattr has been created through the new conditions of the medium, and they have organized activities and entrepreneurship in alternative ways that unsettle how other institutions previously worked. They may thus conceivably change power structures in society regarding who enjoys the value of what is produced, like culture building activities where media companies or travel companies previously operated a form of monopoly. Major players have previously been able to dictate the terms of what something should cost and how it will be distributed. If the value of payment which ​​Flattr represents will take hold in society, media companies must undoubtedly rethink and restructure their business model since the network disrupts the capacity of individuals to consume legally, unlike earlier digital networks regarding consumption such as The Pirate Bay. Society’s ideas about what payment entails are probably no longer as homogeneous due to organizations such as those behind the CS and Flattr. On the other hand it is possible to argue that Flattr only convey traditional capitalist norms around tipping, where the network actually functions as a form of voluntary reward instead of payment.

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There is therefor a political significance in the performance and function of the networks. Flattr has the most explicit political agenda with Sunde’s texts concerning how media companies should not be allowed to dictate the terms of the debate regarding the Internet’s content and payment. Flattr says with their existence and in text that society should change, that the systems we have built around copyright and payment should be dismantled and that everything should be freely available to all (Sunde 2012 ; Flattr 2012). The network may disrupt the power and profitability of large media institutions, such as Bonnier who owns Dagens Nyheter, Dagens Industri, the TV4 Group among others. But even CouchSurfing can be considered to have a political agenda. CS says in its rhetoric on the website that they want to remove the barriers for individuals to travel and open up for more cultures to meet. This is against a nationalist political direction that has blossomed in Europe in recent years (see inter alia Bondesson 2009; UR Samtiden 2011; Ohlsson 2012). It could also threatens the business model of traditional travel intermediary companies that charge for what CS mediates for free. The endangered institutions will naturally be forced to backlash, something we have not really seen yet as what it might entail or what the effect of it will be.

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