Who knew we would begin to spend more time in conversation with things instead of people. People are constantly lamenting the continuous, overwhelming flow of information in our daily lives. Actually I think we are continuously being told that we should be upset at being overwhelmed. Despite pro forma complaints I don’t know anyone who actually wants less information. They want less useless information or less demanding ways of being told about that information but those are actually very different things.
We have been programmed for a continuously increasing flow of information for the last one hundred and fifty years. That could be pushed back to five hundred years if you count the rise of the printing press with cheap broadsheets and books. This has proven to be a geometrically increasing rate of change as more and more things became “information” and there were more ways to communicate it. That information, even the useless kind, never really gets turned off except for sleep or special human events. And those events increasingly become near instantaneous information sent to others.
Information is life to our species. It has already begun to completely replace stuff as the thing that signifies wealth. This is the reality of a profound economic paradigm change that is transforming human society by the millisecond. We are all now incredibly precise in measuring the speed and breadth of the information that we receive. Where coins were once cut into “bits” for more precise measurement of wealth we now cut seconds into thousands for more precise control of information. Where we would never complain about receiving too much money or “stuff” we now never refuse more information even if we complain about it.
Time is information
We all live with the knowledge that time is money, and it still is, but information is worth more than time. In fact you could begin to say that time is being subjugated to information. From that perspective time is information. Obviously when you know something is incredibly important. That has been the difference between a scoop and old news for all of the 20th century. While there was always a value factor in information’s acquisition the idea of the scoop is a newspaper concept of the late 19th century from around 1870. While this is one very clear development time became information and the timing of information became an essential value underpinning modern human society.
These are the elements of value that have been in flux for the entire 20th century. The changes have reached a point that the very concept of value is losing contact with goods.This has happened before and was part of the evolution of capitalist economics with David Ricardo’s Labor Theory of Value in 1817 correcting Adam Smith’s theory of wages. In short this saw the human effort involved in finding, producing, and delivering stuff as a major component of the value of that stuff. But that is changing now also.
People as information
Stuff is still very important but it is declining in value. While rare stuff carries high value manufactured stuff becomes cheaper. Electronics will ultimately become free but the information it processes and provides will always carry value. Economists have been anticipating the end of scarcity for quite some time. We can see that as an increasing fact of everyday life. There are tremendous costs to the development of artificial intelligence and robots to replace human actions but once the development is done the robots controlled by AI can produce more robots and ever smaller and more powerful systems to manage both robots and the process of making more robots. At the end of this recursive process things will cost little more than the cost of very basic raw materials. At this point information will be the only thing of value.
The fear is that people will become valueless also. That is a mistaken idea that comes from retaining the old concept of stuff as value. If you think of people as stuff that does work, i.e. valuable labor, and stuff becomes free then people are free hence valueless. The reality is that we are secondarily stuff but primarily information. We make information, consume information, and transform consumed information into new information. We can’t help it. Our intelligent systems are part of our information and allow us to make newer and better information. Increasingly they will share in the innovation and creativity but I think that will be a symbiotic relationship. They are created in our image as producers and consumers of information.
People as value
When stuff was value and production of stuff became automated and cheaper or even became cheaper through globalization of trade, people lost value. The primary failure of globalization managed from the old capitalist idea of stuff as value and human labor as a form of stuff was that people were not properly valued. This didn’t make moral or human sense but it also didn’t make economic sense because wealth was routed via the old values to a few as if it were stuff. But the entire concept of markets as enhancers and maximizers of value was that you need people to buy in order for stuff to hold it’s value. Otherwise the market is being manipulated to hold value. Guess where we are and why things don’d work in the emerging post capitalist world? We have way too many people with the wrong concept of value screwing things up.
If information is value and people are information then people are value. What? We all know people who produce no useful information. In fact these people have somehow taken over the government of the US with a clueless person producing only bad information sitting in the White House. But everyone consumes information and produces information by that consumption. Aggregate data on information consumption is the basis of Google’s original business. In fact the top ten enterprises on the planet now do not really deal with stuff except incidentally as they are all involved in information. More people means more information and more value.
The current failures
Just to sum up the problems plaguing the declining capitalist and hyper-capitalist countries. Gross concentrations of wealth among a tiny percent of the population. Insane fear of immigrants of diverse race and ethnicity masquerading as fear of dangerous refugees. Destruction of the middle (consuming) class by exploitation of wealth to the tiny billionaire class based on flat or declining incomes for a generation.Vast squandering of wealth and human resources on long term chronic warfare. This chronic warfare is a charade allowing conversion of tax dollars from the middle class to be converted to war stuff sold by the billionaire class. Needless to say the war stuff is destroyed or “lost” allowing the cycle to continue with little or no return to any other part of the society. This is a closed loop joined to the petro chemical industries that must burn more oil and use up (destroy) more stuff to become wealthier based on value as stuff. The entire system is in collapse and cannot be sustained.
Where’s the wealth?
New wealth is in people and ideas producing information. We need diversity to produce innovation. By failing to act broadly on the conversion of value to intellectual capital (information) we are not mining the resources we have in our diverse population. The population struggling under the old concept of wealth as goods has been tricked into seeing new population as a cost reducing their steadily declining wealth. This is the illusion to maintain the old system favoring the tiny class of billionaires. The reality is we need new information from new people. This new population are immediately consumers of information and are creators of new information. The implementation of Universal Basic Income is a way to mine this new information store of value and begin to accelerate it’s growth.
Producing more information and mining that information, purely a process of digital systems and social media, creates lossless value for society. The cost of basic food, shelter, medical care and education is an investment in the new Information Theory of Value. Information flows and is not bound by geography but is instantaneous and available to everyone. And just to be complete, the more information we have the safer we are. What is work of intelligence agencies but the acquisition of information.
Open information systems are not authoritarian. We can have new wealth, new security, and a natural distribution of value to all by understanding what has already changed in advanced human societies.
The new wealth is a continuous conversation with people and systems around the planet. Hiding information and limiting migration is the same as constraining labor. You limit the source of wealth for all.