John Robb Asks: Why Work?
From Global Guerillas:
Re: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs “Everything from that second tier to the capstone, they (Internet Types) can get at a cost that rounds down to zero, if they so choose.” David Wong at Cracked (the humor site).
“Poor folk love their cellphones!” Bruce Sterling. Connectivity = Poverty.
Bruce Sterling on Favela chic: “You have lost everything material, no job or prospects, but you are wired to the gills and really big on Facebook.”
For most kids today in developed economies, the question is: why should I work (any more than I have to) if most of what makes me happy is nearly free?
Connectivity = poverty will grow until: an economic system that truly leverages and aligns with social connectivity is built. Once that social economy is built… watch out.
What would an economy look like if all of the rewards for success, after physical needs were met, were delivered by the social graph?
I have gone back and forth on this issue. When you get down to it, there really isn’t any reason for an individual, a couple, even a family (in the nuclear sense) to do something like buy a home or a car or anything else that is lasting and long-term. With the service economy and the migratory nature of employment, why would anyone want to be tied to a particular geographic area. Additionally, the added, one-off / emergency, costs of owning a home or a car are the sort of thing that can break those struggling just to get by. Let the lessor bear that burden. It wasn’t like that for the Boomers. They had careers with single companies, or companies that clustered in limited geographic areas. They also weren’t saddled with student / credit card debt before they even really entered the workforce. Using this Minimal-Needs model you sacrifice the long-term to take advantage of mobility and opportunity. In a way, if you embrace the physical and economic diffusion of the service economy and the on-demand marketplace you can maximize the ability to find the most optimal and minimal living situation for your needs while maintaining your ties to your family and friends using the connectivity of the network.
In a sense I even agree with this. In spite of the nearsightedness I’ve argued for it before. For many people it even makes total sense. John Robb then takes it a step farther and is, as usual, at his provocative best.
According to Robb’s argument, until the “social economy” comes into being people will be working just hard enough to meet the needs of the bottom two levels of Maslow’s pyramid, getting poor in the process. Rent, don’t buy! Do just enough to be comfortable while you chat on your smart phone or bank virtual money in an MMORPG. Everything above the second level on the pyramid can be found, for free, via networked connectivity. Success doesn’t need to come from the paycheck in your bank account. You can get the same respect and approval from the equipment you outfit your World of Warcraft character with. You don’t need to have a palatial home or a rewarding career, you just need a group of vibrant friends on Facebook who often respond to and “like” your status updates and links or retweet you on Twitter to affirm your personal self-worth. Connectivity can legitimately be your only venue to socially interact with people, not just those you have intimate connections to that you don’t want to lose touch with or that you are no longer geographically close to.
Actually, no. That sort of social engagement is incredibly shallow. At best it generates envy, not respect. It isn’t healthy. No offense at all intended to most of my Facebook friends and blog friends, but I don’t know you (John Robb included). I share ideas with you. I argue with you about various points of mutual interest, but you don’t have anything to do with my personal level of self-worth. I read your posts because your ideas interest me. I tell you when I agree with you and I tell you why I don’t. I hope that you do the same for me. If you don’t it isn’t going to affect my own self worth. That comes from within me, not from anyone else. I’m putting these ideas out to exercise my own mind and to expand and shape my own world-view. Essentially, there is no intimacy in those sorts of networked interactions. They may be rewarding in some way, but they occur on a completely superficial level. Those things on that pyramid that are above the second tier cannot be bought or given. They must be earned internally because they are generated by the individual’s own self-image and desire. That’s why it is so hard to get to the top of that pyramid. Even the belonging of friends and family and the respect of peers must be mirrored by an individual’s unselfish belonging to their friends and family and reciprocal and unselfish respect they have for their peers.
The main problem with an economy based upon this Minimal-Needs mentality and completely virtual social organization is that it doesn’t actually create anything. There is no value added. Nothing lasting is built. Nothing except the minimum is required, and if it can be made for free it will be. This is a possible pit-trap for the Maker Revolution. At best you have novelty that quickly fades because it becomes immediately ubiquitous. In an economy like this things that are essentially free aren’t worth anything. If things aren’t valued or don’t have any value to build on, just consumed, there isn’t an incentive to build anything of value.