The economic sociology of objects on the internet

“A code is a tool well known to lawyers in the sense of a set of texts which have the force of law”[1]. Digital objects as internet objects are codes in that they are a set of texts that have the force of law, as objects created in the world, but also as as text embedded in a system of conventions. They form a non-arbitrary, yet socially constructed set of goods in the networked world of production.

In this paper, I introduce aspects of the economics of convention as a way of understanding the way that internet based objects operate both in both the real and virtual aspects of our everyday lives. I also introduce the idea that as much as we need to focus on creating internet objects for our real and virtual environments, we also need to participate in the creation of the conventions surrounding those objects. It is those conventions that define the object in social, political, economic, and intellectual space, and these conventions legitimate the continued practice of creating internet objects. The economic and other implications of the internet object in both its real and virtual existence arises out of those conventions. Conventions order the market, but we as engaged creators of internet objects have the opportunity to encode and order the conventions.

The idea of convention in this paper arises out of two fields. The first is the economics of convention(EC), which is closely related to the second which might be termed ‘pragmatic sociology’ which is represented in the French tradition by Latour, Callon, and others.[2] Both fields focus clearly on human actions and considers only the inscriptions of those actions into their whole social world, which is ‘socially constructed’ in so far as the construction is discerned by action in the world and in this respect objects in that world exist as intersubjective constructs only when they can be seen to have a relation to actions. Actions have a clear relation to the social, political, ethical, and ontological systems have in the world, because humans structure their actions according to such conventions. Increasingly action oriented concerns are becoming part of the design processes.[3] To understand an individual actor in this world of production, one must start as Storper and Salais do with “… the individual’s interpretive effort, a strong form of action in itself.”[4]

A philosophical definition of a convention is: A regularity R, in the behavior of members of a population P, when they act in a recurrent situation, S, is a convention, if and only if, for each example of S, for the members of P: Each conforms to R Each anticipates that all others will conform to R; Each prefers to conform to R on the condition that others do so. Since S is a problem of coordination, the general conformity to R results in a coordination equilibrium .[5] in [4]

The more common understanding is the way in which things done, or operating agreement through which everyone abides. short, we can understand a convention as a coordinated collective action [4].

We come to know and understand conventions in our everyday lives as we identify, negotiate, and construct them in order to manage our increasingly complex lives. Conventions proceed through time and either become reified in physical structures such as architecture or institutions. Internet objects are very much the in this understanding of convention. They are mutable, but so are other conventions that eventually become real parts of life. Coming to terms with these conventions as part of our social system requires that we act reflexively in respect to their creation.

From this framework we can see how internet objects are interpretable as conventions. Internet objects are defined by their creator/s and then people tend to come to an interpretation of their existence online and off. Because of the architectonics of the conventions of the virtual and real world, internet objects become normal objects in many ways, much like conventions may be come real as objects or as social facts.

Internet objects as code regulate human actions much as regular objects in the real world, until the point in which the conventions no longer regulate, but there are intervening considerations in conventions that transform the way people act. People ‘invest’ in conventions, because the normal operation of a convention increases the overall capacity of the system for participation. That is, because conventions are continually accepted or renegotiated, people tend to accept them because they make existence in the world more efficient. Were we have to renegotiate the internet object at each juncture, the maintenance of the object would quickly become insurmountable. The insight this gives us helps to explain how internet objects become stable social and thus they also become economic conventions over time.