Become a supernode identity, make mega-bucks!
by phil on Friday Dec 12, 2003 2:00 AM
Today we live by proxy. Our experience of the world is mediated by a gallimaufry of electronic foils, digitizing the real world to be transmitted through our two square meters-sized, biological receiver (the human body has a surface area of roughly two square meters). The network of channels that deliver information to this receiver, have become a celestial-sized capillary network. Word-of-mouth remains surprisingly non-deafening, though, for the highest-resolution scan of an event, this boulder of data that is a perfect copy of the actual event, has been grinded down to its grain-of-sand parcels. We get the discrete packets of information, which while smaller, are presented in towering quantity. Viewers can point-and-click instantaneously in order to get needle-thin super-summaries of "news." It's amazing how well our brain can then stitch up this flood without requiring too many dikes to stanch overflow.
Despite how alien this ocean of the virtual seems on the surface, our ancient human behaviors have survived. 500 years of modern science has not perturbed greed, envy, avarice, and love. Each of those emotions is like a thin piece of patterned clothing we wear. This clothing drapes this material homo sapien, but masks nothing. Our communication skills provide a source light to project these emotions onto the world and hopefully onto our fellow man. The relative scales of the projected emotional tapestry haven't changed much, but the intensity of the source light, as aided by technology, has supernova'd for every individual. We can decorate this Christmas tree of ourselves with little bits of choices that define who we are. Our musical tastes, our culinary tastes and our aesthetic tastes in the modern world all speak to an inflating inventory for what comprises the identity tabled to this two square meters-sized transponder of ours.
Two square meters, the size of two picnic blankets, wraps up an internal cosmos of identity that yearns to break free and share itself with our fellow man.
If the light bulb homo sapien burns bright now, why hasn't the world blown up into a burning fireball of information overload? Fortunately this property of exploding complexity naturally creates richer and more expansive landscapes for its data to graze. New media magnifies the space where we can lay each of these grains of sand. This technological compensation started with cave paintings which took up full meters of physical space and has evolved into to blogs that require only a micrometer-sized ant-colony of magnets. Is the growth in the body identity compensated by a parallel growth in media to store it?
The modern human story is also about team work. Our natural social hierarchy is that of a pyramid, which like the pyramids of Giza, is an effective method of reaching height.
Teams are just another vehicle for the individual. Teamwork is just another technology, another tool granted to the cyborg homo sapien to make man stand more formidable, and tower far above our modest, evolutionarily fixed, Serengeti-survival requirements.
Modern society is the ultimate in super-teamwork. But if teamwork amplifies the individual, given our current population and technology to brighten our projection, then the world would be over-crowded. But alas, as mentioned above, team-work is a pyramid, and while the bases have increased, there are still relatively few apexes.
Play with the idea that per-tribe, there remains a fixed sum total of relevant players on the stage. In any tribe, there is the popular one, the handsome one, the warrior, the criminal. But while it seems tribes have become obsolete as we "don't even know our neighbors," the tribe has just inflated to encompass the entire world society. And it's easy to see that this per-tribe gossip node count is still fixed, as our magazines recycle the same people with their same biographies. Britney Spears is just replacing Marilyn Monroe in our social consciousness, who was probably replacing Kendall Sharifas who was the town tease in our ancestral tribe. (See Slate for more on this vein) Sure while there are more people to be discussed, the bar has been raised as to what constitutes a fully developed identity. Try discussing Joe Non-celebrity at the tribal pow-wow of the water cooler, and you will find yourself ostracized. Discuss something about Paris Hilton, on the other hand, and you will get willing ears ready to receive and re-transmit your facsimile of an understanding of what is already a golem of an identity.
This identity re-calibration has come into the extreme now as it has become a career. Reality TV shows are an example where one makes money not through any skill or product, but by simply being. The participants' life is put onto the market to be speculated on by remote-control. Some make quite a fortune doing this paid-living, such as Jessica Simpson who is seen by millions eating chocolates and feeding her cats. One could argue that her fame is also a product of her pre-existing career as a pop star. But with the low product-quality standards apparent in pop-music faire, you could say that whatever musical utility her work has done for the ears approximates zero. When you pay $18 for that album of over-processed, over-formularized, adolescent-romance tunes, you are voting with your wallet that yes, this identity Jessica Simpson is worth giving more attention to on the stage. This fanaticism with interactive rating shows like American Idol and TRL further illustrates this democracy of identities.
Blogging expands the competitive space from not just the big players like Anna Nicole Smith (snicker), who still need at least some notable skill (playboy and marrying rich), to Joe Non-celebrity. Anybody can get a free blog set up and start presenting his life. After a while, if he communicates well, he can eventually be popular and obtain a pseudo-celebrity status. While a lot of the big bloggers are still those who have some sort of other field where they deserve attention, such as Cory Doctorow who writes for WIRED magazine and Dave Winer who writes blogging software, there are some bloggers who are pure socialites. People like Ernie from little. yellow. different., Wil Wheaton, and Witold Riedel simply are, and are fed through page-views. (see Technorati's Top 100 and Fairvue's Weblog Awards)
When Google bought Blogger, I thought that Google's successful adWords system would then truly monetize identity. That an individual could then have a career just by being himself, presenting slices of his life to the world, and profiting from selling adspace on his blog. When I first thought this was a novel idea, I was quickly snubbed, as I only had to turn on the TV and see evidence that fame and fortune are already independent of talent.