In The Nature Of The Future: Dispatches From The Socialstructed World, Marina Gorbis argues that as more and more of our activities are quantified online, your actions could become a new currency. But what happens if good behavior is commodified?
In The Nature Of The Future: Dispatches From The Socialstructed World, Marina Gorbis argues we are moving away from the depersonalized world of institutional production toward a new economy built on social connections and rewards–a process she calls socialstructing. Along with the exciting opportunities to create new kinds of social organizations–systems for producing not merely goods but also meaning, purpose, and greater good–there is a possibility that this form of creation will bring new challenges, new inequities, and new opportunities for abuse. We need to understand the potential disadvantages of socialstructing as well, if we are to minimize the potential pitfalls. The following is an excerpt from the book, available April 9.
In his novel Dead Souls, originally published in 1842, the celebrated Russian writer Nikolai Gogol paints the exploits of Chichikov, a man on the lower rungs of Russian society. Driven by a desire to enhance his social standing, Chichikov develops an ingenious scheme: He travels to Russian villages and buys the records of dead serfs. It’s a brilliant idea that capitalizes on a unique and grotesque feature of feudal Russian society: ownership by landlords of the people who live and work on their land.
The number of serfs, or “souls,” one owns is a measure of one’s economic and social status. Landowners, in fact, pay taxes based on that number. The government keeps count of owned souls based on census numbers. Unfortunately the census takes place only infrequently, and many landowners end up paying taxes on their dead serfs. Grasping an opportune moment between the two censuses, Chichikov buys records of these dead souls from landowners eager to lighten their tax burden. Papers certifying Chichikov’s ownership of four hundred souls rapidly elevate his status: landed gentry open their homes to him, try to give away their daughters in marriage, and celebrate him at town functions. And all it took was a record of ownership of hundreds of souls.
With social connections, social standing, and social influence becoming new standards of value and something that we increasingly measure, we may end up creating many more Chichikovs. But instead of collecting records of dead souls, the modern day Chichikovs may be driven to acquire more followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook or otherwise hoard social connections for money, fame, or reputation.
THE RISE OF SOCIAL CURRENCIES
As we embark on the large-scale enterprise of creating a new infrastructure for social currencies, it is important to remember that social currencies operate quite differently than money. Their purpose is to facilitate social flows that often operate not on market principles but on intrinsic motivations to belong, to be respected, or to gain emotional support. Once we start measuring such connections or such flows, we may purposefully or inadvertently take intrinsic value out of them, creating perverse motives and incentives. In fact, instead of turning market transactions into social flows, we might be turning social interactions into market commodities. In the words of sociologist Chase, we would be applying ontic measurements to ontological phenomena.
via FastCoExist – Marina Gorbis
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