I have been pouring over several books and films lately in an attempt to get at the root of the problem. That is, the malaise that seems to be hanging over the whole world these days after the tech euphoria of perhaps a decade ago – and going back further, after catching the first episode of the National Geographic channel’s 80s – well, how cool everything seemed to be in my generation’s coming of age…
I mean, the walkman, MTV, Michael Jackson. What do we have now, really? Well, really, we have so much more than could have possibly been conceived of in those so-called vaunted 80s, and yet, it all seems rather hollow.
I think when it comes down to it, it is that while our technology has advanced so much, it really has at its core a strong tendency to push up riches, fame, control, to the very top — as most of these media make clear.
So what to do?
Jaron Lanier in Who Own’s the Future talks about getting paid for allowing these corporations to use our data, as if this alone would be some kind of grand fix.
Simon Head, in Mindless, actually gets much more into where some of all of this has been leading when talking about CBSs (computer business systems) – these are control technologies chiefly produced by Oracle, IBM, and where many of my past colleagues have ended up in Montreal – at the Germany-based SAP – that is these huge computer systems, along with mega retail giants like Walmart and its online counterpart Amazon – are in fact based on military principles, and are even more implicated in these centralization tendencies than the advertising and consumer-oriented Google and Facebook as they much more directly affect people’s livelihoods.
Indeed, CBSs, Head explains, were themselves wrapped up in the tentacles of places like Goldman Sachs allowing them to sell uber complex investments ultimately as a kind of swindle – which basically wrecked the economy circa 2008 – and even at Oxbridge (Oxford/Cambridge), the UK government has implemented CBSs to evaluate professors based on strict metrics leading what had been free intellectual exploration to serve narrow technical processes built at the behest of faceless corporate senior management and their abiding technicians.
Astra Taylor pretty much retreads other ideas I already talked about in quite a few previous posts, but with a bit more gusto — basically showing au conraire to the great proliferation of artistic opportunity for the common creative that the Internet promised, in fact, it has allowed a hyper-consolidation in just a few media outlets and web companies with everyone else scrounging for peanuts.
While I have written about the great promise of open source software which could be the great foil to both CBSs and media consolidation more generally, after reading the People’s Platform, I could not help thinking to myself (in something I call Astra’s challenge) that even Matt Mullenweg could be in on it – that is, ultimately WordPress’s spoils go most to Automattic – the private billion dollar company started and headed by Matt to steer WordPress itself — so that most contributors to WordPress core, just like adding Facebook status updates pad Zukerberg’s pocket book – are de facto padding Matt’s.
I do not want to make any enemies there at WordPress headquarters as their product is amazing – and they are an order of magnitude more fair than places like Facebook or Microsoft, let alone the purveyors of CBSs — but imagine for a moment what could be a better way forward, than even Jaron Lanier’s scheme:
That is, imagine we really open sourced things, but not just in the source code, but entire businesses including most importantly their economics. Wherein contributors are paid for what they put in directly – gauging amounts could be open sourced as well – like in Reddit – all collaborators vote on the value of something and profits are apportioned commensurately.
Just imagine the kind of incentive this would give to open source contributors. No more trying to please your immediate superior at a commercial software company for a yearly bonus that may never come, and no more contributions strictly on weekends – for nothing.
Problems could then quickly be addressed through business ideas and put into practise using new technologies like Gitub, collaborative platforms, paid for using Bitcoin, in a truly borderless (read: not Americanized) and fair real new economy.
Of course such a radical change from 3oo years of industrial civilization, with all the baggage of stock markets and corporate Taylorism will surely resist such a thing, but with all this amazing new tech, and yet all this malaise, it seems to me (rather blatantly actually) that it is time for real radical change which has nothing to do with the Arab Spring or Facebook, but with getting paid – fair and square.
Let the collaborations begin.