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Social Slave Laborers

We are all factory workers.  We create products that are packaged, distributed, and sold for billions of dollars every year. And we make nothing. Not a dime.

What do we create in this factory?  Well, it's a unique factory. The products are the digital manifestations of our hearts and minds. They are our tweets, posts, shares, preferences, purchases, collections, discoveries, essays, opinions, and art. They are the digital reflections of ourselves.  Our identities.

The vast majority of people in the world are frustrated (I hate to say 99%) because, for some damn reason, we can't figure out how to make money from the products of our hearts and minds. But the money is being made. In the billions every year.

Why aren't the factory workers getting paid? More to the point: why aren't we striking, unionizing, lobbying for labor reforms? Why aren't we demanding remuneration?

Because we've bought into the belief that we aren't creating products, we are using free services. Before Google, Facebook, and others we couldn't share ourselves with the world. The tools didn't exist.  Now that they do, we are discovering that the ability to share who we are effortlessly with other people is very rewarding. We want our friends, family, and followers to know anything about us that may be interesting to them. Social tools feed a fundamental human desire: to connect with other humans.  We don't share ourselves to make money, we share because of the psychological rewards of connecting with one another.

Where is this leading us? Frictionless sharing. Facebook has (rightly, I think) predicted that as we evolve as a global consciousness, we will become less and less private. We will begin to acknowledge that we don't live in a vacuum, that our activities aren't unique, that no matter who we are, someone somewhere will identify with us. We will focus much less on what to share and much more on how to collaborate, explore, debate, create, and appreciate together. The tools will evolve to help us filter and distill the information so we can find deeper connections with each other. And we will pour every possible digital reflection of ourselves into the systems that give us these tools.

This will only increase the value of our digital identities. Sellers who want to more effectively find and influence buyers will pay more. And we, the consumer, will buy more.  But the companies that sell our digital identities will never share the profits with us. They don't have to. We won't demand financial incentive to give up our data, because we've got psychological incentive.

Besides, there is no alternative. There exists no factory that pays us for the digital products of our hearts and minds.  Not yet, anyway.

What if we built a system that splits the profits amongst all who contribute? If you provide information about yourself that is used by a seller to target you or another buyer, you make money. If you build a tool that entices a buyer to click an advertisement, you make money.

This division of profits wouldn't depend on a philanthropic entity who has promised to be generous, or a government forcing them to. It would be a necessary consequence of a system where:

  1. Every user stores and controls their digital identities
  2. Anyone can build social tools and interfaces to our digital identities

A system like this would allow individuals to profit from the products of their hearts and minds, as well as spawn new companies that provide the tools we rely on to connect with each other. This would do more to level the 99% disparity than any act of Congress.

Let's stop being slaves in the digital identity factory.

There is another way.

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “Social Slave Laborers”

  1. Aaron November 22, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    You have summed up quite well some of the unspoken problems of social networks as they exist right now. Data mining is a huge industry making billions off the content that we the ‘factory worker’ bring and distribute on these sites. I would really like to see a viable competitor that actually rewards and pays its workers based on the quality of the content provided. It could be a huge win/win for everyone involved. One site that I am fond of is Reddit and am interested in how the community regulates and rewards its self for good and bad content. Lets stop being slaves… after I check my status update.

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Name: Augustin Bralley
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