Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Day trading......the real money is in stocks......and here is why!

This article puts forth the argument that with the transfer of stock trading from what could be called an analog world of phone calls, faxes, and trips to the local bank, to the computer-mediated environment of the computer screen, the market becomes the site for new types of individual experiences and practices that cannot be predicted, captured, or understood with existing economic and finance theories. Specifically, by giving the stock market an interactionally- or response-present face-in-action (Knorr Cetina & Bruegger, 2002b), the computer screen alters investors' conventional relationship with, and perception of, the market. It is suggested that the market-on-the-screen gives birth to the market as a place for edgeworking (Lyng, 1990), or experiencing risk as an end in itself. A prerequisite for edgework is a real sense of agency, afforded to the individual investor, for the first time in history, by the computer.

When the investment boom of the late 1990s came to a grinding halt in the spring of 2000, online brokerages like Ameritrade and e*Trade felt the direct impact of the market downturn. Trading volume and thus commissions declined sharply in the immediate aftermath, and kept falling for the next 18 months. The pervasive optimism so characteristic of the new online investor class that had formed at the intersection of technological innovation, neoliberalist economic expansion, enterprise culture, and the progressive individualization of society (e.g., Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2002; Castells, 1996; Gagnier, 1997; Heelas, Lash, & Morris, 1996; Sassen, 1999) was precipitously replaced by a more sober sense of capitalist promise and personal vulnerability. The arguably irrational exuberance (for a different view see Castells, 2001; Mandel, 2000; Shiller, 2000) of the end of the millennium, the excitement of millions of small investors trying to hit the jackpot, the raging trading activity they displayed, and the sizeable profits they generated for online brokerages may not return for years to come. Lately, however, the buying and selling of stocks is making a comeback, as evidenced by rising trading volumes and increasing profits for brokerage firms. In 2003, the previously battered stocks of Ameritrade Holding Corporation and e*Trade saw their share prices triple. Three years after the bubble burst, it may be concluded that the benefits of the digital format have established the practice of online trading as a successful and enduring online business model.

As significant as, and related to, the transformation of the practice of personal investment into a seemingly trivial, consumerist act of "online shopping for stocks," is the change in the phenomenological condition of investors' apperception of stocks and the stock market. In the process of continuous and unlimited unfolding of new communication and information technologies on the field of global financial flows and exchanges, the virtual qualities of a visual representation governed by the computer screen have come to dominate the relationship between the investor and the market. The screen brings a geographically dispersed and invisible market close to the participants as a virtual representation (Knorr Cetina & Bruegger, 2002b). Drawing on Virilio's concept of virtual theatrialization (e.g., Virilio, 1989, 1991, 1994), I argue that the representational work of the screen alters the perception of the market, giving birth to the market as a site for experiencing risk as an end in itself. The perceptual disruption caused by the market-on-the-screen is a function of three distinct yet interrelated processes: aesthetization, virtualization, and de-realization (Virilio, 2000b).

Aesthetization refers to the transformation of the stock market into a symbolic space on the screen. The aesthetics of the screen constitute the stock market as interactionally- or response-present object of consumption (see Knorr Cetina & Bruegger, 2000). Hence the screen fundamentally alters how investors can relate to and experience the market. Virtualization denotes the process of substituting reality with virtual representations via instantaneous communication. Progressive virtualization of its key components only permits mediated perception, which turns the investing experience into a theatrical and unreal spectacle. Illuminating this perceptual transformation is critical for our understanding of the experience of online investing because it is only after the phenomenon has been de-realized in the mind of the investor that it emerges as site par excellence for voluntary high risk-taking behavior. Put differently, an aestheticized, virtualized, and de-realized market-on-the-screen is where, to paraphrase Goffman (1967), the action is.

The rest of this article is divided into three parts. First, I explain what is meant by the aesthetization of the stock market. The goal is to show that the computer screen recodes and repackages the stock market as consumption object while enabling the individual online investor to gain a sense of (consumer) agency and self-actualization. A sense of agency, of being able to interact with, and act on, the market, is a prerequisite for experiencing risk as an end in itself, a concept Lyng (1990) calls edgework. Second, I introduce edgework, contrast it with the more familiar concepts of flow and gambling, and then apply it to interview data to show how my informants "use" the stock market to experience thrill by getting "close to the edge." Third, I suggest a model in which the agency of the investor delivered by the screen is enacted before a background of altered terms of perception of the environment, producing a theater of action characterized by a distance from reality (de-realization). The sense of agency in a de-realized virtual world is a recipe for transforming the market into a space where the experience of risk becomes an end in itself.

For this article, I draw judiciously from interviews I conducted with 25 small online investors in Germany, Denmark, and the United States between the summer of 2000 and the fall of 2002. The majority of the informants entered the investment game when the Internet suddenly afforded them direct access to the market. Because of the nature of the research site, this study provides unique insights into the effect of computer-mediated communication (CMC) on human action in general and economic behavior in particular. The dominant approach of finance and economic theory to new media is functionalist. These fields theorize investment activities as actions taken to maximize risk-adjusted returns in the market. The more information is available to each market actor, the more efficient are market exchanges. Put differently, new information and communication technology create more transparent markets, thus simply enabling otherwise fundamentally unchanged economic exchange processes and encouraging rational investor choice (see Bakos, 1997, 1998; Shapiro & Varian, 1999; Varian, 2000; for a different view, see Barber & Odean, 2001). From this perspective, the Internet allows access to more and timelier information about prices, firms, current events, and other topics that might affect decision-making in the market. Therefore, consumers and investors can be expected to be better informed about the quality and value of market offers, which leads to better decisions regarding how to increase profits while minimizing risk exposure.

However, with its emphasis on a de-contextualized concept of information flow rather than a contextual concept of meaning, economic theory remains blind to the perceptual transformations wrought by the new vision machine. Behavioral economists recognize the importance of context, or what they refer to as the framing of the problem, and draw on psychological theories to explore investor behavior (Shefrin, 2000; Statman, 1999). They are therefore better equipped to look for systematic deviations from what is conventionally considered rational behavior. Prominent studies by two behavioral economists (Barber & Odean, 2000; Odean, 1999) show that customers of discount brokerages trade more than other investors, and that of those discount customers the ones that use the Internet trade the most of all. Yet explanations for this seemingly irrational behavior do not include any effort to account for the nature of the trading medium.

By contrast, the cultural and visual approaches taken in this article aim at addressing both the medium's facility to alter familiar patterns of human perception and the effects of altered perceptions on user behavior in general and economic action in particular. Specifically, and contrary to conventional theories of investing, I argue that the computer screen encourages both an investor subject as frequent trader and investing as edgework, where risk is not sought to be minimized but experienced as an end itself (Lyng, 1990).1


Anonymous said...

Talk about putting someone to sleep ZZZZZZZZZ

Phil said...

Too bad Detlev Zwick can't write very well. He may actually have something to say from a social science perspective.

To sum up the entire article: Day traders frequently take too much risk for internal reasons enabling disciplined traders to profit from their foolishness. It doesn’t take 50,000 words to say that unless you have a PhD.

Chuckie Grassley said...

Zwick or Greenspan they will both put me to sleep, bottom line, if it moves, tax it!!!

adam cox said...

The article simply confirms that people treat the 'market' as a object in its own right - which gives and takes profits. This thinking actually creates the various types of defective trading/gambling behaviours we see in amateurs and would-be traders.

An important feature of the 'market' is that it is actually just colelctions of people - their buying and selling make the market - the market is not an object which you can blame(gestalt therapy required!)

The reaosn why the 'market' takes on its own personna is that buyers and sellers are anomynous. Computer markets, are really the first type of market you don;t see the person you are dealing with. It's just number on screen - but in relaity it is not.

PianoMon said...

You can say all you want....50,000 words more or less, but it comes down to just one thing and you look at it every morning.