jaron lanier: on how the internet could have monetized (and evolved) differently

on wednesday, grant said i should listen to the latest ezra klein episode with jaron lanier. cameron has been telling me to read jaron’s stuff for over a year, but i just never have. but the podcast version, now that i could get into.

i listened and i am dumbfounded. jaron feels very similiar to the monks i’ve gotten to know (via the internet): insightful, wise, slow to make assumptions, and loaded with a hefty sense of humor and love of laughter. i would definitely recommend listening to the episode. it has made me question so much about how i think about technology, the internet, and the role of humanness in the development of both.

the particular thing i wanted to write about today is a specific point about how the internet has evolved. i regularly tell people how annoyed i am when internet companies choose the advertising model for monetization. the response i get, almost like clockwork, is something along the lines of “well, how else is it supposed to happen?” or “that’s the only option.” jaron poked a large hole in that theory.

in my understanding, he framed the situation like this: in the early days of the internet, the community of creators was deadset on two things. first, things on the internet have to stay free. second, entrepreneurship and meritocracy must stay as the rules of the engagement. particularly, the dream of the solo entrepreneur who, by sheer force of intellect and will, changes the world.

in jaron’s mind, the tight hold on these two idealisms resulted in the outcome we have: monetization via ads. he goes on to say that we only have an attention internet economy because of this outcome.

but that wasn’t the only choice. that was just where we landed because of those two idealisms. but what if we had chosen different idealisms? lanier poses an alternative: what if we had chosen to believe that creators should benefit the most from their creating and people should pay to use services? (ok, those aren’t exactly boiled down to idealisms, but i’m sure there are idealisms in there somewhere…). what if internet companies monetized by rewarding and supporting successful individual creators of attention (instead of making money via advertisers who put themselves all over content people actually want)? this would create an economy where many, many more people have the opportunity to generate money. in fact, lanier got to test his hypothesis in second life (i should really look more into this case study… i’ve listened to a lot about it, but now with this whole futurism thing, i really think i gotta dig back into that experiment).

but this supporting of people who are good at making content that attracts other people seems super important (and maybe it’s not too late to go there… some companies do actually do that, but not the huge ones). what happens right now is that basically anytime a technology comes into an old industry it destroys (“disrupts”) the well-being of all the people who used to make their living in that industry. taxis, translation, physical retail stores, photography, journalism, hotels, the list goes on and on.

other thoughts: 1. one of the earliest spoils of hegemony is imagination. there’s a good quote about that somewhere… 2. like always, whenever anyone says there is only one option, i’m immediately suspicious. rarely, if ever, in successful life, is there only one option or pathway.

phew ok that was super jumbled and as i look back it, sometimes non-sensical. ugh. this is why i should really cut myself off at 10 minutes. when i ramble, shit gets complicated and unclear. #yikes.

words / writing / post-processing
655w / 24min / 7min