A few years ago I came across a book, “The Illumination” by Kevin Brockmeier poses the question, what if our pain were the most beautiful thing about us. What if that which we seem to give little value were the source of our greatest beauty. This devaluation of a resource seems to be the story that many companies want to tell us about the data that we freely give them access our internet searches. Every search, shopping cart, web page we look at is regularly recorded, tracked and collated to give the meta-data that companies use to so that they can make data-based predictions about our behavior, our buying habits and sell us things before we know that we need them. All of this data comes from us and we give it freely but what if we didn’t? What if, as consumers, we realized the value of what we leave behind us in our data exhaust. As technology companies continue to try to find a way to monetize content what would happen if the sources of the data began to ask for their fair share of the pie. How would companies react when site users realize that our data exhaust is the most valuable thing about us and ask to be compensated for the diamonds we currently leave in the dust.
While thinking about Moore’s Law, you may remember, it states that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years, with the second law being that cost would fall with each new development, I was reminded of a passage from “Big Data” by Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier about the growth of information and the ability to share it. From the advent of Arabic numerals, writing, print and so forth it seems that the pace of our ability to share and manipulate data has been getting faster not unlike Moore’s Law. The world that most of us grew up in is very different from the world that we are living in now and will, no doubt, look much different in the future. How are we to understand and relate to the world that may be changing faster than our ability to understand it. Motion picture film moves at 24 frames per second that transform single images into a fluid moving image. Will our technology begin to move so fast that the single now is transformed into a rapidly disappearing past, beyond our understanding or realization?
“I knew you were going to say that!”, is something that my wife occasionally says to me, either due to my predictability (possibly) or (hopefully, more likely) that we have known each other for so long we know how each other thinks. This kept ringing in my ears as I read “The Isles Have Eyes” a tremendous new book by Joseph Turow. Turow details the way in which our long tail of data is being gathered, used to predict our behavior and to market to us without our knowing how much we are being manipulated. It seems that in time our phones or possibly an implanted device will tell marketers which stores we go to, what we buy and try to anticipate our needs by sending us messages either to remind us a product we have purchased before or give us coupons or discounts to persuade us to purchase a product. This may happen online but we can also be targeted in brick and mortar stores and possibly in our homes. It seems that we are turning into pawns in an electronic chess game where the winner gets our money.
Yes, the internet was going to shut down the brick and mortar stores and we were all supposed to do all our shopping online but that does not seem to be the case. Why else would brick and mortar stores go to such lengths to predict our behavior and profit from it? It seems that some brick and mortar stores are actually thriving and giving higher satisfaction than usual. If shopping is all about the experience will we want to be guided electronically through the store, like a blind man through the snow or be allowed to make our own decisions free from electronic insight?
When FDR spoke of the four basic freedoms in January of 1941, he made the speech on a new media radio. Nearly 75 years later I was surprised to see the scope of what we think of as a “basic unalienable right” is the right to internet access. It seems odd that while at one time wars were fought for religious freedom or for the right to free speech that now we should give access to electronic communication the same level of importance. The argument is that denying internet access keeps people from an education and denies economic and social opportunity by reducing options. At a point where we seem to find dispute in what constitutes an appropriate education or even finding a way to make it available to everyone, it seems curious that we should focus on sending out a message that no one would be able to read. That is not to say that broadband access is not important, is it something that we would be willing to die for as we did for similar basic human rights?
How badly do we want our MTV?
Some current work is involving some data base correction and a fair amount of internet research. While I do enjoy research in and finding out information I have been shocked to see the internet holes (or I holes if you prefer) that people put themselves into. People and more so businesses seem to be neglecting the creation of an online identity becoming internet ghosts. While at first I was surprised to see that some contacts didn’t have profiles on LinkedIn- I was shocked to see that even more frequently the representative firms did not have profiles. In addition to this, it is not uncommon to find contacts with no e mail address or even websites for their firm or services. Have the voluntarily taken their business out of the public eye or are they blissfully unaware of the movement of information from print to digital. As we have discussed earlier, if you don’t exist on the web could it be said that you exist at all but it seems that while most of us would a terrifying business situation it seems there are people who still find the ignorance bliss, hiding in the attic while opportunity knocks at the door.
In my wild years it seemed like a good idea to study Economics. Needless to say this passion passed to less lucrative field, thought the ramifications of economic thought still crosses my mind. This happened recently when thinking of social media and the wealth of data that floods our consciousness every moment. It seems that these two ideas, social media and economic theory, are coming out of opposite corners in regard to our ideas of value and worth. Our economy teaches us to value things that are scarce- scarcity equals value but the idea of social media is completely opposite, excess is valued, how much quality content can you post. While these Janus faced concepts seem define our world and our relationship to it, it seems that we never stop to think about the ramifications of these ideas. People are confounded by the reality of social media, that the more quality content the better- where is the scarcity, where is the value? How is it that the scarcity we have valued has now, through the new social media, become of the least value. A Facebook page with little or no content wild fade into obscurity while one with a solid supply of quality posts will find an audience. Like content, we have so many people in the world we seem to take them as an exhaustible, expendable resource. When Chairman Mao was faced with the possibility of an atomic bomb being dropped on China he reportedly responded saying ” China has many people. They cannot be bombed out of existence. …….. The death of ten or twenty million people is nothing to be afraid of.” The most precious thing we have, our time on this earth we seem not to appreciate until we find ourselves confronted with the end of it.
We can only hope that in this time of readjusting ideas of worth and value we may take the lead from this new computer paradigm, that there is value in number and discover the value of the many and concern ourselves only with the scarcity of gratitude in our bounty.
In addition to the beautiful writing, I have been taken by the central idea behind Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass” asking that we reexamine our relationship to our environment, asking us to create “cultures of regenerative reciprocity” and invoking a relaationship to the earth like the native americans; taking just what we need and no more, remembering that giving is as important as getting and to have respect for where our gifts come. She laments the winner take all mentality we take to the planet, noting that in the long run, we are the losers. The impact and importance on the environment is clear as is the importance of this new paradigm she proposes. The thing that I found interesting was the parallel to the new paradigm that social media has created. It seems that the only reason that social networks survive is our generosity with not only our time but our information, opinions and lives. We must feel the need for gratitude for our efforts for 35% of people check their mobile phones before getting out of bed while 80% of smartphone users check their smartphone before brushing their teeth. Why else would we do this unless it filled a need, a need to have our gift acknowledged and hopefully commented upon, liked and retweeted?
It seems that what Kimmerer is looking for in our relationship to the world is what we are already doing in our relationship to social media. To give first, not expecting anything in return but being thankful and grateful for what we get, to take the gifts of others and share them hopefully respecting the dignity of their words and thoughts. The top down model, where content flows from top down is over, hopefully we can bring this new interactive approach to other relationships in our life and our world. While this new media destroyed the old media hopefully the social media paradigm will bear with it the seeds to save our world.