The decoupling

There is currently only one world economy. No matter what people tell you about the economy of the United States, or Europe, or Japan, or China, all of them are connected intimately and deeply. Price changes in food in China affect the cost of iPads in the US, which affects Apple’s bottom line, which affects the tourism industry in France, which affects…. you get the picture. The only reason we don’t see this more obviously is because of the human factor. A human can only be awake, tops, twenty-ish hours a day if he abuses prescription drugs. That still leaves four hours in which he cannot make decisions. Of those twenty hours awake that our Provigil and Adderall abusing business mogul spends, he probably only spends sixteen or so actually making decisions. And he is far and away in the minority of the human race. As computers improve and are entrusted with more and more decisions, second by second adaptations to the market become more and more possible. Arbitrage lessens, and ever more powerful and subtle computers are required to scrape profit out of ever narrowing margins. This effect is being seen already in some markets; the Forex market is almost impossible to make a profit in, unless you are a mathematician and a skilled programmer.

The reason that the world will never decouple into separate physical markets is that we are (justly) accustomed to recompense for creating a product. HOWEVER, our assumptions about compensation are beginning to change. Many people make a full time living on the internet, for example, doing something as their full time job that actually is provided for free. Take webcomic artists for a moment; they create a free product which often amounts to a full time job for them, but they continue to do it. Their profits are provided on the side, as they take already created ideas and put them in books, on coffee mugs and tee shirts. But what about all of the people who do their online job, and work in meatspace on the side? There is an enormous amount of content that is created whether or not people read it. I’ve heard (and my source may well be wrong) that there is more information on the internet than the entire population of the United States could read before their deaths. That is a LOT of content. How much of it have you read? This blog is an excellent example, in fact. I’ll probably write for a year or two, and if I don’t get any readership in that time, I will probably stop. But there will still be hundreds of posts. Tens of thousands of words. Every single word is being put out there for free. I don’t have any expectation of ever making a penny from this blog (which is probably a good thing, since I have no intention of revealing my identity), but I still need to eat. I provide content for free, merely because I enjoy doing it. I may write for ten years, and not lose interest in all that time, even if I never get another reader.

That effect; people creating content because they like to, without expectation of compensation except recognition, is slowly causing a decoupling of the internet’s economy from that of meatspace. More and more, I suspect, meatspace will be devoted to actual production, or supporting production, and that will be one economy, where tokens of exchange will rule. The second economy will exist in small, specialized cells, where individuals will exchange recognition and reputation for entertainment. There may continue to be a market for mass movies, games, and music, but I suspect it is more likely to dissolve in favor of talented hobbyists. This may take a while; we are only now raising a generation that is accustomed to having the internet in its current “Do anything” form. Anyone born in the eighties and nineties thinks of the internet as something that is still new and amazing, even as we take our livings from it, depend on it, and use it for more and more. For entertainment to truly decouple from production, we need to take the internet for granted. I suspect that it will happen, but not immediately; the oldest of the post-millenial children are just eleven years old this year, after all.

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