John Robb on the netarchical exploitation of cognitive slaves

John Robb has written a very provocative editorial piece in his blog:

“The companies that have created the most new value in the last decade, are Internet companies like Facebook, Google, etc. They’ve created hundreds of billions in market value, driven by billions in financial profits. Good for them, but bad for us.

Why? IF these companies represent the most valuable new industry of the early 21st Century, where are the jobs that will provide prosperity for millions today, and potentially tens of millions in the future? They don’t exist. These companies create few real jobs.

The distressing part is that in reality these companies actually employ hundreds of millions of people, particularly young and otherwise un or underemployed superusers. People that work for them day in and day out for free: finding, sifting, sorting, connecting, building, etc.

Let’s take Facebook as an example. Currently it’s valued at ~$25 billion by the market. However, it could be argued that ~100,000 superusers out of 500 million part time users, are the reason that Facebook is valuable. They generate the core network that is the backbone of the tool. Their devoted use, high levels of connectivity, and loyalty forms the engine that grows Facebook, year in and year out. They are the materials, labor, and product of Facebook’s assembly line. Yet they aren’t paid for their effort. They aren’t generating wealth for themselves or their families.

How much wealth? If we awarded 4/5 ths of the value of Facebook (and the same exercise could be done with Google at a couple of million superusers) to its superusers, leaving the tool managers $5 billion in value, each superuser would now be worth $200,000 from their contributions to this tool alone. But they aren’t. They haven’t earned a penny for their effort.

One way to look at this is that we are truly in trouble. If the industries of the future are based on cognitive slavery, we all lose. However, as an entrepreneur, an optimist (believe it or not), and a believer in the potential for social/economic improvement, I think this can be corrected. I believe it’s possible to build tools and the companies that manage them, in a way that actually rewards the people that do most of the work. All we need to do is make it possible.”

1 Comment John Robb on the netarchical exploitation of cognitive slaves

  1. AvatarTom Crowl

    Absolutely true!

    In a piece I wrote a couple of years ago I stated:

    “… in many cases, and as a result of the Internet’s unique nature, the value is actually produced from a distributed network which extends beyond the boundaries of the entity which focuses that value into marketable form and derives the market’s benefits.

    The Internet is a landscape not a business. But as a landscape its qualities are unlike normal geographies since proximity is fundamentally redefined (farther in space and longer in time become closer and shorter respectively). This results in both greater productivity but also reduced opportunities to extract surplus value from the points along that chain from product to consumer since that chain no longer exists.”

    And later in the same piece:

    “Further, the availability of information and communication technology COMBINED with the implications of the Ultimatum Game in a shrinking and interdependent world make vast imbalances in wealth and power much LESS viable than they once were. Which suggests that a minimal drawing right against the commons for basic necessities may now be a practical necessity… in addition to the moral imperative it’s always been.”

    Miscellaneous on Status Updates, Distributed Intelligence & New Economies

    Economic ‘evolution’ requires the sort of ‘distributed resilience’ that you are also advocating. I’m convinced that the Commons-dedicated Account Network forms the root of a needed catalyst and tool for the self-organization and empowerment of new economic tribes.

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