The belief in co-creation as something that is attractive both to the human senses and general social and economic progress owes much to the science of cybernetics. Sponsored in the 1940s and 1950s by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, cybernetics was developed as a theory of systems that could be applied to living beings as well as to machines. Cybernetics has consequently been advanced in many fields, from biology to neurology, economics, linguistics and computer science (Pias, 2016). With cybernetics the network society was designed to function as an open system, where interconnections lead to nonlinearities and self-organization arise (Prigogine, 2000). More recently, however, these complex systems have been tweaked to engage people even more to activate them in a sharing economy. Consumers are considered to create more value if they are ‘[i]nformed, networked, empowered, and active’ (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004). Whereas consumers previously were defined by their possessions, their identity is now shaped by what they can access and share (e.g. see Belk, 2014). With the help of communication technologies people are thus facilitated to co-create in so called ‘engagement systems’ constituted by connected platforms (Ramaswamy & Ozcan, 2014:32). According to Ramaswamy (2014) increased engagement leads to more value creation, both in terms of experiences and monetary gains. Co-creation does not necessarily happen only between humans and their machines, but can take place in between machines, as in the Turing game described by Kittler (1997), or in between platforms and algorithms (Pasquale, 2015). Most commonly though, co-creation is considered to be virtual collective practices of cooperation that result in an inseparable mix of production, distribution, consumption (Fuchs, 2015) and feedback.
Co-creation has consequently become more and more important for inclusion mechanisms, conceived as useful for both business and governmental processes. By means of various procedures and techniques that posit co-creation as something desirable, and an arena for autonomy and self-actualization (e.g., formal competitions and awards, or more informal reward systems), many corporate discourses effectively encourage user-customers to generate know-how and creative input, which may be incorporated into for example innovation processes. Engagement platforms thereby support free digital labour by what is left of individual choice making - from personalized settings to whistleblowing. In parallel or even enmeshed in corporate agendas, engagement systems can also stimulate individual responsibility for risk management by smooth intervention in local communities or private homes. As facilitators of an inclusion of connected people, network providers then organise the outcomes of co-creation via algorithms. Algorithms are nevertheless unseen by the user and do by default direct public debates, markets and personal life style choices in concealed ways (Pasquale, 2015). That users become algorithmically directed to understand things and themselves is however something that platform and network providers think positively about.
Critics have on the other hand raised a number of questions to unearth what the fantasies and practices of co-creation entail, and what their effects are. It has been suggested that the increased digitalisation and informationalisation of life has left us hanging more or less as puppets on strings in complex assemblages that expand with information technology and emergent processes (2007; 2008; Dillon & Reid, 2009). Co-creation may even cultivate an ethical social bond that thrives on affect, shared ideals and experiences whereby affective co-creation empowers citizens to serve capitalistic functions (for branding see Arvidsson, 2006; also see Lazzarato, 1996; Marazzi, 2008; Terranova, 2003; Virno, 2004). Remaining within a theoretical matrix dominated by Karl Marx and Michel Foucault, but concentrating more exclusively on the political aspects of customer co-creation – more so than ethical ones – Zwick, Bonsu, and Darmody (2008) have showed that particular lifestyles and knowledge communities are generated through voluntarism, i.e. the freedom of the user-customer, rather than through normative control measures, in both intentional and highly sophisticated ways.
In this paper we present three cases of co-creation supported by the Swedish network provider Ericsson.