ENGL444: BOOK CRITIQUE - Mark Poster’s "The Mode of Information"

Maitiu Ward

Mark Poster’s "The Mode of Information" can be seen as something of an attempt to establish a new discourse in socio-political theory. He does this mainly through the concerted criticism of several prominent philosophers, including Marx, Foucault, Derrida and Baudrillard. Typically, his prime concern with the bulk of most of these philosopher’s works is their tendency towards totalization, or their failure to adequately incorporate an understanding of what Poster sees as the "mode of information" into their theorizing. From what remains of his counterparts’ theories, Poster attempts to assemble his new discourse, incorporating into the equation theories of globalization and information. My concern in this critique will largely be to highlight some of Poster’s own theoretical inadequacies, and perhaps provide a very brief overview of the core elements of his theory of information along the way. Of key interest will be his belief that the current global era of late Capitalism can be defined by the shift from the Marxist "mode of production" towards a "mode of information", as well as his discussions around the concept of digitization. Other points of interest beyond these, but nonetheless related to them, will focus upon Poster’s belief in the decentering of the subject through the forces of "new media", as well as his belief in the death of the Marxist Proletariat as a definitive social force within modern Capitalism.

Absolutely vital to the body of Poster’s book "The Mode of Information" is the assumption that the human race has moved into a new social era, defined by the cultural logic of Late Capitalism. Poster sees this era as being characterized by the globalized spread of information, typically in the form of "new Media", via a complex and technologically advanced web of communications networks. Poster also sees as central to Late Capitalism a shift in primacy away from the mode of production towards the mode of consumption, and ultimately the "mode of information". Poster essentially believes that the emphasis in contemporary Capitalism no longer focuses upon how goods are produced, but rather how they are sold ( or consumed, as the case may be ). Implicit in this belief ( and in fact expatiated by his belief in the demise of the proletariat ) is the concept of a "knowledge economy", whereby the proletariat of the early Industrial era have been steadily replaced by mechanization and a new workforce comprised of technologically adept skills people. The old exchange of capital for physical labor has supposedly been outmoded by new developments in production technology, having been replaced by a new exchange of capital for technological skill or intellectual ability. For a certain few privileged nations, this could certainly well be the case. When contextualised globally, however, this premise becomes highly questionable . The fact of the matter is that for most of the world’s population, technological advancement is precluded by poverty and the simple fact that it is vastly unaffordable. In terms of the Proletariat, it could well be argued, and in fact has been by World Systems Theorists, that rather than disappearing with the advent of more efficient production methods ( such as computerization ), the exchange of raw physical labor for capital has simply relocated itself away from the wealthier nations ( often termed as the "core" nations ), to the poorer developing ones ( termed as the "periphery" ). Those nations not wealthy enough to be able to afford the cost of technological advancement have simply become the home of this "new" world order’s Working Classes – the horrors and injustices which once characterized the West’s early Industrial era can now be readily discovered in any number of developing countries’ backyards.

To be fair to Poster, however, there is no denying the far-reaching impact of the new communications media he focuses upon so much within "The Mode of Information". Although the impacts of digitization are perhaps not so readily noticeable at the grassroots level of the majority of the world’s population, their effects have undeniably brought about huge changes internationally. Equally, there is no denying the fact that the global spread of communications media, not necessarily those related to digitization, has had a considerable impact upon social structures around the world. But firstly, let us focus in