Markets Without Money

Markets without money seems sort of incomprehensible, yet that is what I would like to talk about here and now.

Oddly, just a few days ago I maintained that “I do not live in fantasy land” (see “Social Business Regulation: Introduction & Socio BIZ Rule #1” [ ] ) … and yet here I am asking you to believe that markets without money are possible.

Back when I was an student of economics, I recall meeting another student — I think perhaps she was from the University of Chicago — who had worked with Professor Becker on the general topic of shadow markets … and so this at one and the same time acknowledges that even way back when — in the stone ages? — there was such a thing, a concept (if you will), about exchanges in “quasi-” markets without money.

Without getting too deep into semantics, I would simply like to point out that our conventional view of the definitions of “market” and “money” are very closely intertwined — and I think that is probably one of the main reasons why the concept of markets without money seems so odd.

Yet there has actually been a very long history of this concept in media — just a couple examples should be more than sufficient to make this case. “Front page news”, “above the fold”, “headlines”, “top 10 results” — need I say more? (wink wink, nudge nudge 😉 )

If I do need to say more, the notion of “screen space” has probably already filled entire volumes of treatises on graphic design, data visualization texts and whatnot more.

If you still don’t get IT, please look up the term “attention economy” (that ought to be a good place to start in case you have been living under a rock for most of your life 😛 ).

Now I am simply going to assume that you are already able to entertain the thought that markets without money do exist (and perhaps such so-called “shadow markets” actually overshadow our traditional concept of money and markets).

When working with information, context is paramount. A statement such as “mix two things” may be a commandment in the context of a religious text, or it may merely be a suggestion in the context of a cookbook. Or just think of the way a message might be completely appropriate in one context versus completely inappropriate in another context. The supply and demand for any particular message may be completely different.

Ideally, there ought to be enough awareness of context so that communications are better suited to their environments. This is what I was referring to when I used the word “fittest” in my question to Matt Mullenweg the other day (see “Matt Mullenweg’s Answer May Have Been Somewhat Misleading” [ ] ).

I think maybe Matt misunderstood my question about marketplaces — it seems that his answer was mostly about marketplaces with money, and hardly at all about marketplaces without money.

For more background on my thinking about the relationship between money and language, please see “In What We Trust” [ ].

Bait & Switch Resentment

A small thing — I hope to keep this short & sweet! 😉

When a user is suckered into clicking on clickbait, they resent being suckered — “how could you“?

Usually, however, the question ought to be: “how could I“?

In most cases. it is blatantly obvious whether (or not) the context has been clearly defined. Rational media name the context in plain English. Irrational media obscure the context with brand names. Anyone who clicks on an irrational media (brand name) link, has only themself to blame for beng suckered.

The Foundations of Context

Context is basically content’s habitat — whether that be paper and ink, pixels on a screen / monitor, bits in the ether, whatever.

The technological basis of content cannot be overlooked. Media is not merely a channel, it is also the technology itself.

In my previous post, I pointed out that the most basic notion of context that most of us have grown up with is actually bogus: Fact vs. fiction … neither exist in reality.

So what does exist?

For the past several centuries, the answer was, for the most part: Paper. Within the past several decades: A whole lot more. Today (and tomorrow, and for the forseeable future): The Internet. I don’t know of a good way of measuring content (Hal Varian has historically measured it by simply counting bits — but as I used to say: it might not be very reasonable to consider a megapixel-sized photo of a black room to be a million times as informative as one big fat zero), but I do feel quite confident that most of it will at least be duplicated online (even if it doesn’t live there exclusively or “in the first place”).

Most people recognize that the habitat of the Internet is networked computers. Yet only a few people recognize that the habitat of the Internet is also alpha-numeric characters (plus the “hyphen” symbol) — and a couple of these people might include the founders of Google (since the original name of the company is equivalent to the number of combinations of such characters which are possible in each top-level domain). Hardly anyone recognizes that the habitat of the Internet includes the governments / legal systems that are responsible for regulating the technology.

If we want to understand online media, we need to understand how the sausage is made, including the languages used and regulations (and similar standards) which govern it.

Introduction to Rational Media: Content vs. Container

Over the years, I have written quite a bit about online media — and most of it seems to be quite controversial. Perhaps one of the most controversial stories I have written has been the story about what I refer to as “outdated media” technology (which I wrote on what is essentially my own “personal” blog). The definition of this more-or-less controversial term has held up quite well, and now I would like to begin delving into the other side of the coin.

I am immediately motivated by the encouragement of an aspiring educator who said she looks forward to “reading more of your thoughts related to this topic” (meaning the topic of “building connections“). Language builds connections — insofar as it is meaningful. Following Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observations, we can say that the meanings we create by using language are mostly circumscribed by those contexts in which we use particular linguistic expressions (versus other contexts, and / or other expressions, respectively): we do not say “cat” when talking about a dog; we do not say “dog” when talking about a cat.

Meaningful expressions exist at various levels. We navigate these contexts without even needing to think about it. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Herbert Paul Grice’s seminal work on pragmatism (“Logic and conversation”, 1975) — in which he analyzed the meanings of expressions that seem to violate standard (“grammatical”) interpretations. Yet much research in linguistics oddly aims to be “context-free”, which seems to fly in the face of how humans seem to naturally think. To ignore context makes about as much sense as trying to breathe in a vacuum.

My particular focus is primarily written language, another favorite point of ignorance among many more conventional linguists. One particularly interesting aspect of most writing systems is that the technology has evolved to support very explicit contextual information. In school, we learned to write “about” stuff by putting a title above what we wrote. If the title was something like “The difference between cats and dogs” (well, that sounds quite definitive, doesn’t it? maybe it would show more humility to use a title like “Some of the differences between cats and dogs which I think are important right now”, but I expect many might instead coach students to be more straightforward, to forthrightly simply declare something like “Cats & Dogs”) … with such titles a reader reasonably expects to find some particular kinds of information — and by reasonable you might even think “rational”. Rational media, therefore, is about something meaningful… and the thing it’s about is clearly labeled in the title.

Online, these titles are the names of sites — not “page titles”. A page title is merely a piece of metadata about an HTML page. A site is the container for content — in other words: its context.