Recently, Twitter has received a lot of attention in the press because of its use around the world in response to the situation in Iran. Most of that attention has been hyperbolic and often misleading about the role that social media plays in real world events. Going against some of the more extreme claims for Twitter’s role in the Iranian situation, Guarav Mishra, argues that
…Twitter was more useful as a media tool and not as an organizing tool. We will see that Twitter didn’t really change much in Iran in terms of organizing the protests, but it did play an important role in engaging the international community in the protests and focusing media attention on the protests… Link
Twitter, and social media in general, have also become targeted by marketers who are constantly looking for new and novel ways to manufacture desire and get you to buy crap. Anyone who has been on Twitter for a year or more can attest to the increase in spam that is crufting up the site.
Of course, Twitter is by no means relegated to performing just one function and, just like any kind of social space/interaction, what you get out of it is highly determined by what you put in to it. Lately I’ve been thinking about Twitter as a crude harbinger of a post-money society. Specifically, I am thinking about the concept of Whuffie as presented in Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and the way Manfred Macx lives without money in Charles Stross’s novel Accelerando.
The Wikipedia entry on Whuffie gives a good overview of Doctorow’s concept, but in a nutshell, Whuffie is a reputation based economic system, whereby a person’s wealth is tied to his/her actions and the perceptions of those actions by society. Keep in mind, Doctorow is writing about a post-scarcity society, so all the necessities of life such as food, shelter, clothing, information access, etc, are available to anyone. Poverty, in the way we understand it, does not exist. However, people being, you know, people, systems of exchange and economics so still exist. Being wealthy (as opposed to being rich) remains a desirable state. Because whuffie is based on social feedback, a world famous rock star will still be “wealthier” than a teacher. However, if you go around hurting people and being an asshole, it will be a lot harder to attain wealth than it is in a cash-based economic system where the marker of success (money) is not necessarily correlated to an individual’s personal actions and behaviors.
Doctorow writes that:
…Whuffie recaptured the true essence of money: in the old days, if you were broke but respected, you wouldn’t starve; contrariwise, if you were rich and hated, no sum could buy you security and peace. By measuring the thing that money really represented—your personal capital with your friends and neighbors—you more accurately gauged your success. Link
Twitter is fast becoming a valid marker for a kind of celebrity “wealth” based on the number of follower’s a user might have. Thus, we have Ashton Kutcher challenging CNN in a race to get 1 million followers (currently, Kutcher is at 2,463,513 followers and CNN is at 2,025,426) and, as one might expect, the wealthiest Twitterers are some of the most famous, with Kutcher, Ellen Degeneres, Britney Spears, and Oprah leading the pack. In fact, the top 50 spots are almost all either well known organizations like CNN and Time, or well known celebrities. What is interesting, however, is looking at some of the people ranked between 48 and 100 in term of the amount of followers (and yes, I picked 48 simply so I could include Wil Wheaton):
You would certainly not be putting any of these four people in the same top 100 list as Oprah if looking at monetary wealth. Neither would their name recognition come anywhere close to Kutcher, Britney Spears or Ellen Degeneres. In that sense, Twitter as a crude form of Whuffie is limited to a relatively small and technologically wealthy demographic. However, the fact that Ashton Kutcher is only 3 times wealthier as Felicia Day on Twitter is astounding, and demonstrates the beginnings of a new kind of celebrity and wealth.
Of course, Whuffie, at least as developed by Doctorow, depends on a complete integration with the individual mind and some future form of extelligence that makes the internet and Twitter look as primitive as the supercomputers of the 50s look to us now. In addition, we still live in a money based economy, where even having hundreds of thousands of followers won’t, at the end of the day, pay your bills.
Or will it?
This brings me to Charles Stross’ novel, Accelerando and his character, the venture altruist, Manfred Macx. Macx lives in a culture where money is still used as an economic system, but he has figured out a way to get beyond that system:
Manfred has a suite at the Hotel Jan Luyken paid for by a grateful multinational consumer protection group, and an unlimited public transport pass paid for by a Scottish sambapunk band in return for services rendered. He has airline employee’s travel rights with six flag carriers despite never having worked for an airline. His bush jacket has sixty-four compact supercomputing clusters sewn into it, four per pocket, courtesy of an invisible college that wants to grow up to be the next Media Lab. His dumb clothing comes made to measure from an e-tailor in the Philippines he’s never met. Law firms handle his patent applications on a pro bono basis, and boy, does he patent a lot – although he always signs the rights over to the Free Intellect Foundation, as contributions to their obligation-free infrastructure project . . . Manfred is at the peak of his profession, which is essentially coming up with whacky but workable ideas and giving them to people who will make fortunes with them. He does this for free, gratis. In return, he has virtual immunity from the tyranny of cash; money is a symptom of poverty, after all, and Manfred never has to pay for anything. Link
Macx has a high Whuffie factor, albeit one that is still tied into a money economy since his money free life is dependent on other people’s still operating within a money system. This lifestyle, while seemingly fantastic, is becoming more and more possible to attain, even for someone whose Twitter wealth is only a mere 35,194 people: Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer is a Boston based musician and has released a number of albums as one half of The Dresden Dolls as well as her recently released, Ben Folds produced solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer She is currently ranked 932nd in Twitter rankings but she, more than anyone else I am aware of, is turning her Twitter wealth into real world capital. Instead of patenting ideas and giving them away, as Macx does in Stross’ novel, Palmer is offering up her music and herself and, in return, is generating more money than her proceeds from a major label released album. In a recent blog post, she outlines three Twitter based projects that netted her nearly $19,000 for about 10 hours worth of her time.
However, I’m even more interested in Palmer’s ability to forgo expenses such as equipment rentals and even transportation costs.
In the same blog post that she describes her money-raising events, she writes that:
and i twittered looking for a keyboard when i landed in LA, since i decided i needed to practice, and a few hours later… voila. this awesome and lovely girl sarah showed up with one in her trunk. i love my fucking life…
What really got me started thinking about Twitter as a tool for removing oneself from a cash-based economy was this series of tweets by Palmer:
going out on a limb, since the force is with me: anyone near hermosa beach want to give me a ride to hollywood at 1:30? will save cab fare. 1:54 PM Jun 24th from web
first twitter-hiking experience ACTIVATE! with @devilsnight!!! i sort of know him, so i’m not TOTALLY taking my life in my hands. 2:35 PM Jun 24th from web
….and thank you to everyone else who offered. i swear to god, i’m going to end of doing an entire twitter-hiking tour if this keeps up. 2:35 PM Jun 24th from web
And here is a video she took as she began her twitter-hiking experience:
Sure, getting a free ride isn’t that big a deal and I’m not suggesting that Amanda Palmer is in a position to stop using money altogether. But the power of Twitter coupled with Palmer’s personal Whuffie factor may very well be the humble beginnings of a post-money economy. How close is Palmer to being able to live someplace without paying rent, not having to pay money for free rehearsal space or equipment? If she, Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, or Veronica Belmont asked for a place to stay while working on a project, it seems likely that someone would offer a rarely used apartment in a city, or a vacation home in the country. If they asked to borrow a car while visiting friends in, say, Providence RI, it seems likely that someone would offer to lend one. If I happened to have a lot of airline points, more than I could use, I’d happily offer them to any number of artists that I respect and whose work has affected me. This is not charity or patronage, but a economic transaction based on reputation and an individual’s body of work. The value of allowing Wil Wheaton to write a book while staying at your summer place in Maine or giving Amanda Palmer a ride to Hollywood is, like the commercial says, priceless—at least when price is within a monetary rubric.
Twitter enables people to begin an economy of value that is measured by personal accomplishment, actions, and behavior. Palmer could not succeed at using Twitter to provide for her needs if she treated her fans poorly because a post-money economy is still one of exchange. Palmer’s success depends on these transactions being meaningful for those who take part. If she were imperious and viewed free rides to Hollywood or fans buying her autographed stuff through a web auction as her right, as something that she was owed because she was a rock star, I guarantee that her Twitter wealth would quickly mean absolutely nothing.
Will a post-money economy look exactly like the ones outlined by Doctorow or Stross? Probably not. Is Twitter going to bring down capitalism and offer everyone the opportunity to take part in a new kind of economic exchange? Certainly not. I do think, however, that Twitter offers both a glimpse of, and the possibility to experiment with, new systems of exchange between individuals that may very well presage future economic systems.
I definitely feel like I could stand to learn some basics about electronics considering I spend most of my life surrounded by the stuff! Plus it would be a great way to stretch my brain and help me think in new and different ways that have nothing to do with critical theory and cultural criticism.
With the release of the new iPhone operating system and the new iPhone 3GS, the intertubes are chock full of iPhone news and commentary. So, I thought to myself this afternoon, why not add to the general din. So here are a few things I wish for (and would even wish for if I could get the new 3GS):
Easier way to switch between 3G and Edge
Right now, it takes 3 selections to get to the proper screen to switch between networks. I may switch more than some, but because of the trade-off between performance and battery life, it would be great to have an easier way to manage these network settings (as well as turning wifi on and off).
Actually, in thinking about the wifi situation, how cool would it be to have the iPhone switch Wifi on or off based on your location? Consider: I set the phone to always turn on wifi when I’m in my apartment, at work, or at my favorite coffee shop and then, when I’m driving or seeing a movie with a friend, or anywhere that I’m not normally using wifi, the phone just turns it off, thereby saving battery life.
An external keyboard
I expected someone to be poised and ready with one of these when the 3.0 operating system launched, considering that one of the key parts of iPhone 3.0 is that Apple offers 3rd party developers the opportunity to use the dock connector for hardware. I know I’m not alone in wanting a small external keyboard to go with my phone because, truth be told, as good as the software keyboard may be for short emails and text messages, if I want to do some serious blogging or writing done but want to leave my laptop behind, I need a keyboard. As much as I love my Macbook Pro, there are plenty of times that I’d like to leave it home and just bring my iPhone and small keyboard with me for a short trip.
Send to AirTunes
I’m sure it would kill the iPhone’s battery life, but how cool would it be to take your iPhone and an Airport Express with you and be able to stream to a stereo? Considering Apple’s own Remote app can detect Airtunes and allows you to select speakers attached to an Airport Express, you’d think it could send music that was coming from the iPhone itself to those same speakers.
Easier Mail Management
If you have multiple emails set up on the iPhone, switching between them is a pain and a half. There must be a better way!
Without going overboard with personal customization, I think having the ability to choose a background image is reasonable. The plain black background is a bit staid and uninspiring.
What about you? Are there any annoyances or irritations or pie-in-the-sky wishes that remain even after the 3.0 and hardware updates?
(Update: I forgot to mention that I would really appreciate a Weekly view in the iPhone’s calendar app. I don’t think I’m alone in that one either. While I tend to use Montly views on my computers, I’ve always preferred a Weekly view on small screen like my old Toshiba pda and on the iPhone.)
Lately I’ve noticed I’m tense. Not occasionally, not sporadically. All the frakin’ time. Like I spend my life in a state of flight or fight response.
I have no idea how long I’ve been like this, but this explains a lot about why I never seem to have much energy, why I don’t sleep well, why I seem sunk in a hole and find it difficult to feel committed and connected to my life and my creativity. Gaining this awareness has meant that I have started to consciously focus on my body (when driving, when sitting at work, when walking, when doing the dishes, when watching a movie, heck, when doing just about anything) and attempting to release the tension and relax my muscles. Usually I find that within minutes or even less, I become tight and tense once more and have to, again, consciously relax. Somehow, my natural state has become one of tension. Somehow, I have become, quite literally, a tightass. Somehow, I don’t think such a state is healthy.
What I have noticed over the past several days as I’ve been struggling to relax my body is that my mood does seem somewhat better. I can’t prove a connection, and my mood could be due to a number of other factors, but the coincidence is enough to notice and remark upon. So, hopefully, my attempts to rid myself of this overwhelming and constant tension will have fairly direct and immediate benefits to my mind and my emotions.
I recently started using Markdown to write my posts and installed a script to convert Markdown to HTML on my site. However, I have discovered today that this has caused some formatting problems. If you come across a page or an entry that looks odd or funny or completely screwed up, let me know. I should have everything fixed by Monday or Tuesday night.
Lately I’ve been thinking about all the support and encouragement given to me by friends and family over the course of my life. My family never held me to their own preconceived notions of success and supported me when I wanted to be an actor, when I quit URI 1 year short of a degree, when I moved to CA, when I moved back to RI, when I went back to school at RIC, then at UMD, then left the program after my Master’s instead of staying for the Ph.D., when I quit two subsequent graduate programs, and even when I had the crazy notion to go out to New Mexico and be a writer even though I had no clear plan of action or income.
At no point did anyone say to me “are you really sure you aren’t taking the easy way out and selling yourself short and we are kind of disappointed that you haven’t taken responsibility for finishing much of what you have set out to do and you are capable of much more if you just put your nose to the grindstone and submitted to the path you’ve chosen instead of going down every other footpath that you come across.” Nobody said these things because I have a facility with persuasive arguments and can be very good at convincing myself and those around me that a) I know what I’m doing and b) that my actions are rationally considered and will bring me happiness. Since my friends and family want me to be happy, whenever I make a life decision and bring up reasons x, y, and z demonstrating how this particular action will make me happy and move me forward to something like contentment, they think I’m being brave and making choices based on my own personal rubric for fulfillment; that I’m moving to the beat of my own drum and living life by my own rules and such a life is to be admired and supported.
Of course, I’m within inches of turning 40,1, I’m working at a temp job that uses about 5% of my brain but that I stay at because they keep extending my job assignment, and it’s comfortable in a soul-deadening way, and with the economy the way it is I feel too afraid to let the job go, and it’s only 5 miles from my apartment. The problem isn’t this job per se, but the fact that I have consistently narrowed my options in life rather than expand them.
And, quite honestly, I am disappointed with where I am compared to where I would like to be. The actuality of my personal, professional, and artistic lives simply does not match my potential. So, yes, I do think people ought to be disappointed in me, at least in some ways. I’m not asking for a mental or emotional flogging. I don’t think my failings make me an awful person or someone deserving of punishment, but at the same time, I think a small dose of disappointment and frustration might not be such a bad thing for me to hear from those whose opinions matter to me. While the onus of my life lies entirely upon myself and my choices, having someone else express disappointment when my decisions are counter to future success and stability might allow me to voice my own reservations and would at least validate some of my own feelings about my life.