Tuesday 22 August 2017

We are the product

I think I'm getting to be a John Lanchester groupie. We've met him before 1) as a Londoner loving the Underground 2) on the gross discrepancy in London housing for the indigenous dispossessed vs foreign investors. That last bloboref was on foot of a piece written in the London Review of Books. You can often get quality unpaywalled longform reading at the LRB as the sprat to catch the mackerel of your sub to the journal. Here he is again writing a triple-play review of recent books about Friendface and the other multi-billion players in e-commerce.

Friendface now has 2 billion people who tune into Zuckerland at least every month. It's hard to see how an economic model requiring growth can continue to work on those figures. There just aren't another billion unsigned-up people dithering about whether to join the Friendherd: the Russians and Chinese (there a billion of them) have their own social-media platforms. You can discount the half billion Southerners who may have a cell-phone but don't do internet data because they'd rather have a plate of real dates out of their $2/day. You can discount a billion children who are either starving or still locked into Harry the Bunny, Operation Ouch! <barf alert!> and Nick.  Then there are a billion crumblies like me and my Mum who just use the telephone or the quill pen to communicate. After a decade of exponential growth Zuckerpal is now in the business of monetising their investment by delivering their client-base to advertisers. There are companies that would dearly love to target white-skinned silver-backs with disposable green-backs and tap into their unarticulated desires. Even without being a Faceborg, I've gotten my share of dorky targetted marketing. Lanchester's review is profoundly depressing given that 10% of the world's electricity is going up the climate change chimney to service the desire to post hilarious photos on Snapface . . . and service the need to deliver ad-fodder to Megacorp.

But I was taken by this: "Bork’s most influential legal stance came in the area of competition law. He promulgated the doctrine that the only form of anti-competitive action which matters concerns the prices paid by consumers. His idea was that if the price is falling that means the market is working, and no questions of monopoly need be addressed." That's Robert Bork, who was controversially rejected as a Supreme Court Judge after being nominated by Pres Ronald Reagan 30 years ago.  This Borkian view of economics says that we should all be happy with Amazon because it delivers books (and every other shaggin' thing imaginable) to our doors for much less than we'd pay in the shops - and that's not costing in driving into town and parking. But that's not right; The Brother is trying to monetise his very expensive education to bring Quite Interesting books to market. He has to sell his edutaining erudition for half nothing because Amazon owns The Globe w.r.t book retailing.  That's nice for me because I am able to buy not-totally-useless Xmas presents on a limit budget but, I put it to you ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is very bad for the global market in creativity. Would you give up the day job if Bezos The Market dictates that you have to sell your book for half-nothing? Not to mention that the business model of that branch of Megacorp depends on thousands of human employees who work soullessly like robots for the minimum wage.
  • Two Qs 
    • Is that how you want the world to work? 
    • Does it have to be like this?

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