The latest Thing

Give enough money to the Catholic Thing, & they’ll stop cluttering our column with their fundraising appeals. … (Er, little joke there.) …

In doing our mite of homework for that piece, we realized that we had not been giving nearly enough attention to these Internet gurus. Jaron Lanier is mentioned therein, & it was only while Google-searching the gentleman yesterday that his grand point about “Googlenomics” sank home. For free, we were gathering information about him. That information had been provided at some cost to people, in time if not money. They gained nothing by posting it, or nothing tangible. But while we searched, Messrs Google were collecting, for the use of our eyeballs by their advertisers. Too, gathering information about us, with “cookies” flying hither & thither. That marketing information being of some additional value — to them.

The interesting point here is not how rich Google is getting. Like every other cyberian enterprise their own services will soon be obviated, & their company will then crash & burn. It is instead how much “traditional” economy is getting erased along the way — how many livelihoods gone into the aether, along with skills no longer required; & then the livelihoods & skills they supported in turn; & then the families & communities, moving outward; & whatever else there was of life around them. Erased — poof — by technological progress. And not over centuries but in the blink of an eye.

So: not all the jobs are going to China & India (from where they will next disappear). Many, probably most, vanish in the air. They don’t need that function any more. The Internet has made it possible to “cut out the middleman,” & it turns out the middleman was … you, gentle reader. But do not despair, there are some service jobs left.

Of course, we had a general idea. When the world was celebrating the great boom of the information economy back in the 1990s, & the expansion of the general economy it portended, we observed that the world is always wrong. But we didn’t know why yet. Now we are glimpsing the actual mechanism by which this information economy achieves the opposite of its intended effect, & pauperizes those it promised to enrich.

The progression is towards a kind of singularity, in which there will be finally no tangible thing left to buy or sell. And the marketing men will have nothing left to peddle but that quasi-infinite supply of “information” — which hardly needs any people at all, only algorithms. And with nothing to make, we’ll have no further need of human labour; & thus no incentive to grow food. For we can’t go on subsidizing ourselves for ever. The last few people can just microwave one another, for there will be no taboos left either. At which point the starvaults of information themselves become absolutely worthless. It’s, like, Hegelian.

We noticed from a report on the recent Japanese election that “Google” is now used as an accounting term. The company being currently valued at some par amount in trillions or quadrillions of yen, the degree of “quantitative easing” (i.e. money to be created ex nihilo) the Bank of Japan is now compelled to provide overnight against its own better judgement in light of the election result was expressed as, “six Googles.”

But why not eight? Or twelve? Why not create one hundred Googles of fresh, new, imaginary money? The people have spoken for more zeroes, & why are more zeroes being denied?