Thursday, February 04, 2010

There Is No New Internet Economy

I was reflecting on an earlier blog post about Complex Systems where I point out that theoretically there are only information, physical, economic & political systems and nothing else. There are some subtleties involved in this since very small primitive economies look like political systems more than anything else. After you realize that resource acquisition isn't such a hardship in primitive people's daily lives, and that intangible characteristics (ie, status) play a heavy role in these systems, then it makes more sense that they are political rather than economic. And artificial systems like resource distribution in computers could go either way, depending on how they're designed. But that's not what I want to get into.

What I want to get into is all the people who've been talking about the New Economy. You know, with the internet and the infinite reproducibility of information. People who've been trying to answer 'once you take out the cost of reproduction as a dominant element of the system, what's left?'. Clay Shirky has written about it on his site. Michael Goldhaber has written about The Attention Economy on First Monday. And I even recall an article using Hollywood as an analogy for the "new economy". It's all well and good. Hell until now I considered these papers to be Very Insightful. Only it turns out they're not very insightful at all. There never was a new economy and there never will be. What's called the "new economy" is an old thing called politics. Let's examine that for a minute.

The key concepts of the "attention economy" are attention, credit, fame and celebrity. Certainly politics has its own key concepts; loyalty, betrayal, conflict and factions come to mind. And you might think those are separate but wait for it. You see, the key concepts of economics are production, consumption, cost, price and trade. What do they have to do with politics? Nothing, that's what. Whereas, if you bother to think about it, the key concepts of the "attention economy" are the underpinnings of political power. If you have people's attention then you can help redirect that attention to something else, including something you want them to do. And making people do things is politics. Credit, fame and celebrity all further one's political power.

So what about loyalty, betrayal and conflict? What do they have to do with attention, with the so-called "attention economy"? Well, 'attention economy == politics' wouldn't be a very good insight if we didn't learn something new from it. And after careful thought, loyalty and betrayal are merely higher order effects. They're phenomena that appear when systems of attention are high valued and tightly bound together. Eric Raymond's betrayal of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation didn't involve money or laws or anything else of the kind. It involved pure attention. Just a very high-volume and high-grade form of attention since Unix programmers were showing loyalty by heralding Stallman as the messiah. Loyalty then is nothing but a form of highly consistent, high grade, long term attention. Betrayal is the hijacking or redirection of loyalty. It's attention all the way down.

There never was any new economy and never will be. Only a degraded form of politics that must inevitably bloom into its full form.

As a final note, I will say that the insight that an economy is about scarcity is not nearly so interesting once you realize it's implied by metacircularity. A metacircular system is one that's got a concept of self, an idea of what it values and of how it wants to be. This inevitably creates optimization and prioritization, what are called economics and politics. Also, the question of 'what do you want to do and be when you can do and be anything?' comes out of this naturally. It becomes an obvious extreme to the evolution of such systems - a trivial insight, not an important one. All this can be derived from metacircularity, a far more important phenomenon than mere politics or economics.

Metacircularity, especially consciousness, is a topic I've been meaning to write on for a while.


Michael H. Goldhaber said...

Well, you are almost completely wrong, if you understand the word economy as I do, involving:

1) transactions involving something scarce and desirable that bind a society or several societies together;
2) a principle of growth;
3) relations between a driving class and the more or less driven.;

The attention economy is driven by stars and would be stars; these stars are not by any means limited to politicians in the usual sense, nor is the power at all necessarily in the political sphere, and more than a factory owner's power over the employees is.

I have said much more about all this on my blog at

Michael H. Goldhaber

Richard Kulisz said...

Your "understanding" of the word economy is obviously and provably wrong since politics fits all of these criteria.

Politics involves exchanges of commands and actions. It involves the powerful accumulating ever more power. And it involves them subjugating the powerless.

There's not much more wrong you could be. In fact no, you couldn't be more wrong.

I strongly recommend you learn the art of debate. Especially the part where one pro-actively insulates oneself from the accusations one leverages on others. Not doing so makes you look like a douche.

Oh and your implication that only politicians do politics makes you look like a moron. Have you never heard of the term "corporate politics"? Or hey, how about "Hollywood politics"?

You've just lost every smattering of respect I had for you by proving you're lacking of a brain to think with. I don't give a shit what you have to say anymore.

Michael H. Goldhaber said...

Well,Mr. Kulisz, you show yourself to be a master of nasty invective, but hardly a serious thinker on anything. Insults will not prove your points. My short answer was hardly intended to to be more than a precis.

Yes, the term politics can be metaphorically extended in many directions, but it is quite different from the kinds of interactions that define an attention economy. Hollywood politics is hardly what defines Hollywood, nor do corporate politics define a corporation, the attention its gets or how attention flows through it. Get a grip. If you think "metacircularity" means anything important, then explain it clearly. So far you have not.

Further, why should your definition of economy be taken seriously? You list several elements, but those are not motivating factors in all circumstances.

Even your first point about 4 kinds of system is just rhetoric. Why just four? How could that possibly be demonstrated? Even with these 4, are they to be in unchanging equilibrium with one another?. If not, that means that different kinds of systems involving them are possible, and it would be useful to have ways to describe the differences. Ignoring that possibility is certainly not very convincing.

Reductionism, which you practice here, says, in essence that there can be nothing new under (or beyond) the sun, as well as no new ideas or developments. If you think that helps you understand the world, you are welcome to that outlook, but don''t expect others to think you have anything interesting to say.

Bye bye.