Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, etc. from Wealth of Networks

From Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, ch. 4:
Where extrinsic rewards dominate, this will increase the activity rewarded as usually predicted in economics. However, the effect on intrinsic motivation, at least sometimes, operates in the opposite direction. Where intrinsic motivation is an important factor because pricing and contracting are difficult to achieve, or because the payment that can be offered is relatively low, the aggregate effect may be negative. Persuading experienced employees to communicate their tacit knowledge to the teams they work
with is a good example of the type of behavior that is very hard to specify for efficient pricing, and therefore occurs more effectively through social motivations for teamwork than through payments. Negative effects of small payments on participation in work that was otherwise volunteer-based are an example of low payments recruiting relatively few people, but making others shift their efforts elsewhere and thereby reducing, rather than increasing, the total level of volunteering for the job.

Extrinsic motivations make intrinsic motivations seem inauthentic, inadequate. We suddenly feel stupid for doing something for free once we see that payment is possible. Also, paying a little exposes the bad faith of the volunteer contract. Paying a little implies that the social rewards heretofore being offered are worth even less -- payment discredits them.

The larger issue here is that motivation is not something that emerges strictly from individuals, but is instead generated by context, by a system that makes it appear in different forms to individuals. Our impulses to act are shaped by the context in which they are expressed. Also we don't prefer stasis and require pecuniary incentives to act. Rather we want to act, and we ask society to provide to us forms or fields or modes in which to do so. The key question is what shapes those forms -- market capitalism demands a certain regime for social action, a certain set of congenial explanations. A postcapitalist society would need different explanations, a different set of ex post fact explanations for why people become motivated.

Are there only two forms of motivation: for money and for social recognition? Are they reducible to only the latter?

for any given culture, there will be some acts that a person would prefer to perform not for money, but for social standing, recognition, and probably, ultimately, instrumental value obtainable only if that person has performed the action through a social, rather than a market, transaction.
Another way of putting that: some desires are inherently social -- we have to see ourselves as part of a group to conceive them and fulfill them. They don't register to us as individuals, or when we are locked into thinking of ourselves as isolated. Markets tend to project identity as entirely individualized -- we want things for ourselves only. But some of the things we want are to belong and to share. We want a group-based identity to complement the atomized identity.

According to Benkler, these are the conditions for peer production: (1) means of production not serving as capital. People own means of production not as an investment to capitalize by merely as part of everyday life. The personal computer fits here. (2) Information as the raw material of production processes must be freely accessible as part of a commons. The open internet currently fits here. (3) "Modular" production processes that require no coordination to yield useful results. Seems that the key here is redefining what a useful result or finished good is. Rather than something that can be marketed, it is something that can be "remixed" in a subsequent information-based production process. In other words, in the networked-information economy, all goods are intermediate and there are no finished goods to be fetishized/mystified as capitalist commodities.

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