Data, Markets, and Power

by jonl

There’s an election Tuesday, and you’re probably going to vote – whether your vote is meaningful or not. Some call voting a “ritual,” which is not at all to say that it’s not meaningful – rituals do have meaning. But the word is that it’s a symbolic rather than functional, practical event. The actual eddies and currents of power feel little or no impact from your single vote.

Where can you have a real impact? Doc Searls and colleagues working through Project VRM and the Internet Identity Workshop are catalyzing a redefinition of the computer-mediated vendor/consumer relationship, with the potential to transform power relationships in markets rather than in the political sphere. However market experiences dominate so much of our daily commitment of attention and thinking, a redefinition of marketplace relationships could be a redefinition of relationship and power more broadly. If we assume symmetry in vendor/consumer relationshiops, we will also assume that the relationship of an elected official to her constituents will be more symmetrical.

I’m reading Doc Searls’ “The Data Bubble II,” which includes a lot of homework – links to other articles and posts I might read to get deeper into the subjects of online identity and relationship as they pertain to marketing and the redefinition of vendor/consumer relationships. Doc quotes John Battelle, who discusses how emerging conversational media inspired an economic model he calls conversational marketing, “simply the tip of a very large iceberg, representative of a sea change in how all businesses converse with their constituents – be they customers, partners, or employees.” Battelle calls it “The Conversation Economy,” for which Doc says “we’re going to need individuals who are independent and self-empowered.”

Back to voting: the vote is symbolic of your share as a citizen within a power structure that is supposedly of, for, and by the people, though it’s increasingly obvious that votes and voters are manipulable and nodes within power structures are corruptible. In arguing for a more participatory or democratic set of structures, it’s important to know that supposed majorities are also corruptible and can be crazy as hell. We need structures that empower and that also include checks and balances on those empowered. We want to build sanity into the architecture of power, and ease dependence on the ethics and logic of mere mortals. If we build such structures for markets, they will have an impact on governance as well.

(Also interesting: Doc refers to David Siegel on “The Social Networking Bubble.” Siegel says “We’ve overstated and overemphasized the utility of social networking and are now in a marketer’s ‘greater fool’ territory.”)

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