Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Cold War


Lots of confused emails. Let me try and clarify and simplify my argument from yesterday, since it seems to be opaque for many people. I will focus on the Lanier version, and we can try and tackler the Carr/Dyson version later.

1) Lanier argues that "the hive" (=connected consumption) will have negative consequences.

2) These consequences include the loss of variety, diminished returns to creativity, diluted incentives for competition. In short, the outcome is a kind of Digital Socialism.

2.5) Forget, for a second, the ample evidence that creativity will explode in a world of connected consumption (you know the score, Arctic Monkeys, snowballs, fatness of the tail, blah, blah). Why? Well, we have to - because Lanier conveniently ignores it.

3) The problem is that Lanier spends a lot of time talking about the problems with markets - bubbles, crashes, avalanches, etc - to illustrate that the "collective" can fail.

4) Of course, socialism is distinctly not an outcome of markets. Markets force competition. Lanier appears not to understand that collectives and markets are fundamentally opposed to one another.

Think about it this way: Lanier tells us that the consumer who "hive" are "Digital Maoists". But his version of hiving is very purely market driven - markets which connect consumers in different ways.

Now, last time I checked, markets were pretty much the antithesis of all things Mao. So I humbly submit it's kind of intellectually bankrupt to argue that markets create a "tyranny of the collective".

Markets do have their problems - bubbles, crashes, contagion, avalanches, etc. But the "tyranny of the collective" is a very (very) different kind of problem. It's what happened in the Soviet Union, perhaps.

Let me make it as simple as possible: Lanier confuses markets with collectives. Then he conclude "markets" will cause a kind of digital fascism. But clearly, economics, sociology, and history all tell us: markets are the answer to "fascism" (cold war, anyone?). Distinctly not a cause of it.

His entire argument is prime facie absurd and totally bankrupt.

5) He may be an ubergeek, but really the only way he can make such a simple but critical error - which in fact renders his whole argument invalid - is if he has no idea what markets and collectives really are from an economic POV.

There's just simply no other way to confuse the two so deeply.

6) This is a classic case of ivory towerism. Lanier's "argument" is really just an (uninformed) opinion.

Consider: he tells us American Idol would never have turned up John Lennon.

Uhhh. Let's get a little 2006, not 1996. Myspace on your left, Last.fm on your right. More to the point, he completely ignores what Lennon told us: that he himself grew to hate the pap he was forced to play to make it; that it took him the better part of a decade to earn the freedom to be the John Lennon who Lanier thinks was a creative genius. Put another way, Lanier, like many people, fails to even factor in something as simple as opportunity cost.

The point is that he's not looking at peer production analytically or even rationally - he's just reiterating the same old bourgeois thinking Sartre put so elegantly: "hell is other people".

Except it...uhh...wasn't just a tired, stale cliche when Sartre said it.

Look, at the end of the day, Lanier's piece is so intellectually bankrupt, it's hard for me even bother writing this.

Yes, there are problems with markets. Yes, there are problems with networks and communities. We've discussed both in depth here.

But what we can't do, if we're serious about understanding this stuff, is conflate everything willy nilly.

Because then we end up where Lanier does: making the breathtakingly bizarre assertion that markets are dangerous because they fuel the socialist "tyranny of the collective". That's just nonsensical and absurd; clearly, it is markets which are the solution to the "tyranny of the collective".

And if Lanier (etc) really wanted to think about this stuff, he would ask questions that are actually valid. Like: is the "tyranny of the collective" better or worse than the "tyranny of the boardroom"? That is, are consumers better off having to submit to one another than to the suits?

Because if that's true, even if Lanier is absolutely right about the "tyranny of the hive", everyone's still better off, and his argument is invalid...yet again.

Last post for a very (very) long time on this stuff and sorry to subject you to it :)

-- umair // 2:27 PM // 6 comments


Comments:

If, as you say, Lanier is hanging much of his argument on the problems with markets, he actually undermines himself, as much of the hive operates on nonmarket forces. He seems very unaware of the distinction, that is, he evaluates nonmarket behavior in market terms.

"writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time"

Most authors need to be paid? Romantic Maximizers do, but what about Scolarly Lawyers and Joe Einsteins?

How much did Jaron get paid for his Edge essay? I'm guessing nothing.
// Anonymous Mike Bunnell // 5:23 PM
 

Umair, The problem is that you aren't attacking Lanier's article but rather a fantasy version of that article that you've created in your mind in order to attack it. You give the game away at the start when you write:

"the hive" (=connected consumption)

Lanier's article reflects a compeletely different formulation:

"the hive" (=connected production)

It's your reading of Lanier's argument, not the argument, that's bankrupt.

Nick
// Anonymous Nick Carr // 7:01 PM
 

Just want to throw 2 things into this discussion:

American Ideol is and was, just as in every other country of the world, in no means a "collective" or "hive" process.

It was just another way to promote fast-food-stars out of a choosen set of "compatible" mainstream-stars with a "fig leaf" of consumer participation.

And second - the most interesting thing in hives valuation AND creation:

The things most valued will be the first to vanish. No "cash cow exploitation" possible.
The Avantgarde always will be attacked by the mainstream and become mainstream itself therefore...making room for more avantgarde.

A process so dynamic no company could ever handle it...just delay it.

So the creation factor will be one of the highest in these "anarchy hive situations" Umari described.

btw. Always a pleasure to read these lil battles.

Greetings from Germany
// Anonymous Anonymous // 10:16 AM
 

Hey Mike,

I agree - I think that's a very good point.

Hi Nick,

Not at all - my "connected consumption" = Benkler's "peer production" = the older "prosumption", as it has for the last couple of years now.

Semantics aside, I just find it difficult to believe anyone can argue markets = Maoism.

Etc.

Thx for the comments guys.
// Blogger umair // 1:52 PM
 

Please tell me that the Arctic Monkeys aren't "ample evidence that creativity will explode in a world of connected consumption." If so, we're fucked.
// Anonymous Ryan Shaw // 2:53 AM
 

lol. =most recent example of a snowball.
// Blogger umair // 11:17 AM
 
 

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