The only thing you can count on is change, the rest is S.H.I.T.

The only thing you can count on is change, the rest is S.H.I.T.

Summary: Maybe, just maybe, all the Web 2.0 "new dawn of a sharing economy" folks are just plain full of S.H.I.T. Not maybe. They are.

TOPICS: Browser

Follow the nirvana signsSimple hacks of intellectual transactions, or S.H.I.T., is all the rage among marketers and gurus these days. As I've explained before, responding to, amongst other things, David Berlind's repeated complaints about C.R.A.P, S.H.I.T. that supposedly will eliminate the complexities and reciprocities of the existing economy, including C.R.A.P., are fantasies that don't bear up to real-world use. Changing people is a hell of a lot harder than changing technology. If we would accept this fact, dealing with many economic problems, from C.R.A.P. to the emerging information hegemony of search engines, would be a more straightforward challenge.

We can hack machines, we can hack systems, but we evolve too slowly to overcome the human need for resources to sustain life and luxury, Organizations aren't changing as much as people are waking up to the fact that they've always been in charge.not to mention greed, which is built into so many economies anyway. Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near notwithstanding, which is so full of chockablock philosophical short-cuts and hockey-stick graphs seeking to prove the inevitable über-S.H.I.T. that I lapsed into catatonia after the third or fourth conflicting teleological force behind history was summoned to support the book's argument, that we're all going to transcend biology real soon now. Read and judge for yourself, don't take my word for it. Anyway, back to what I was saying... .

Social computing alledgedly put the kibosh on the top-down organization. But, know what? Most innovation has come from the edges of industry, the periphery of command-and-control organizations, the outside of whatever In Group was in control. Top-down systems are what come after change. They are attempts to make the change a permanent feature of human society. Top-down is just another way of saying "fenced in."

Social systems have always changed the economy, forever. Making out that the economy has been turned up-side down because a technology is uniquely social, so much so that users shouldn't share in the value they create because of all the goodness they get to share in, is merely the rhetoric deployed by one more generation of winners trying to lock in their gains.

Organizations aren't changing as much as people are waking up to the fact that they've always been in charge.  Increasingly egalitarian access to information is making that awakening possible.

Every generation has had more information at its disposal, the organization of that information has changed and, in the case of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, given people the impression that knowledge has accelerated. It may not have, as evidenced by the fact that influence and authority are still cited as the most important factors in managing distributed organizations. If management as a practice can survive without bloodshed, things haven't changed so very much.

We've forgotten so much that isn't necessary to know anymore and we're forgetting more everyday to make intellectual space for new information (where are the contents of your hard drive from 1995 and would you need it if you found it?), so the volume of human knowledge being manipulated globally inside human skulls may be relatively unchanged from pre-historic days. We worry less about lions, tigers and bears, that's for sure. But we also notice so much less about the physical world, because it is largely—except for big storms and natural disasters—"conquered" territory. 

Unfortunately, some among the newly enlightened think something quasi-religious has happened to society. It hasn't. If we were pragmatic about it, we'd admit the truth of this. Because it feels so good to think that your generation invented everything we're going to go on claiming it is the era of S.H.I.T., when no wrong will happen and those few that do will be swiftly punished by the wisdom of the crowd or the blink of personal judgment.

A collective unconsciousness hasn't been summoned out of silicon and Ethernet, but the people seeking to gain the most from the rise of networked society want you to believe it. And the fact that you get so much information thrown at you any time you make a query is proof that, so far, there's very little in the way of added value. We've got a lot of added volume, enough to make anyone think they're getting more information.


Individuals and organizations that see opportunities and exploit them successfully are changing the world, just like it has always been. The more information we have about this world, the better most decisions can be. However, if you want to exchange valuable data or data that is organized valuably (whether for knowledge purposes or entertainment) in this economy or any other, it is pragmatic to ask cui bono? Who benefits, taking a part of the transaction, when you give away your personal information? The search indices do. [For an excellent discussion of the biological foundations of religion, which are deeply tied to the way we perceive the economy itself, see Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, which takes cui bono as the philosophical crucible for understanding human religious behavior.]

Search enthusiasts, however, believe they or their search-innovator heroes have really undone something fundamental about the way society and the economy work. "Sharing" and "caring" are bandied about like mantras against the corruption of this new world by money, ironically by those making the most profit, whether they are blogger-consultants or search index vendors.

As reported by Dan Farber, it appears these marketing-speak revolutions are claiming the highest minds in search. For example, Yahoo Senior Vice President of Search and Services Jeff Weiner, speaking at PC Forum, said of including users in the search revenue stream: "One would think that in profit driven culture, it would lead to right behavior, but it doesn't work. It changes the way people interact with one another. It's not as simple as providing economic incentive. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. It's a multivariable equation."

God forbid we should change how we interact so much that it becomes fair to everyone!

Let's dig just a bit deeper. If there is no profit, where's the economic argument? In fact, for the search engines, the rest of us are like raw natural resources that spit out more and more data for them to organize. If the mine wakes up to the fact it is riddled with miners, it will be bad for mining profits. That's not a very complex equation, so the search guys wrap their business in pioneer rhetoric, estimating that they've indexed less than six one-thousandths of human information and, so, like settlers who got to the Old West first, deserve to erect their cities and have them stand forever.

Status quo comes with the search offering you choose and it is made to sound like charity that you should even have access to such functionality. When asked by Root Markets CEO Seth Goldstein if users had a right to control and profit from their personal data, Yahoo's Jeff Weiner Google's Omid Kordestani said at PC Forum today: "If it makes sense, we should probably allow it." That's the voice of control. [See the Attention Trust blog for ongoing discussion of user control of personal data.]

We can measure, we can monitor, we can fiddle with our networks and human relationships. Let's do it rationally, on foundations of Englightenment science instead of new age mysticism that strips the network and the information it contains of economic and social values that are inconvenient to the priests and lords of search indices.

Topic: Browser

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  • Classy

    • Did you want black tie?

      What with all the C.R.A.P. floating around....
      Mitch Ratcliffe
    • Anal rententive

      Stinking smelly rotten techno babble... Just curious on a couple of points 1) What the hay are you all smoking? 2) Do you happen to have any left:)
      • I agree, Techno babble all the way

        I read into the story as a whole lotta' nothing.
        Lets talk singularity, multivariable, maybe even a disruptive technology for good measure.

        Unfortunately people follow the the oddballs like
        Clayton Christensen and Ray Kurzweil as they usually just reword what is said or done before, yet designing words and terms as though it's a new concept or thought procees that they had the ability to comprehend.

        you could say it was a paradigm shift in the way the world now views something.

        Or you could say it was just an epiphany.
        John Zern
  • We've Only Just Begun

    Your blog speaks truth.

    Probably 99 percent of people think we're still in a Computer Age or Information Age. But what's really happened is 2000 was the end of a Kondrieff long wave that began in 1929 with the stock market crash, and ended in 2000 with the tech crash.

    Most are still in shell shock from that. And they still report on the old stuff, wanting, hoping, that nothing has changed.

    But it has.
  • An indicator

    "...that we're all going to transcend biology real soon now. "

    The indicator that humans are about to transcend biology is when we stop F.A.R.T.I.N.G.

    This was a nice piece of writing.
  • Too much time among computer people.

    This rambling comment mixes good sense amidst resentment of the attitudes of a small group of people. Spend a lot of time among those people, and seems necessary to take them seriously and answer them.

    The most egregious example of exaggerating the importance of techno-believers comes in the discussion of computer-associated experiences as a new-age religion.

    Some people do that. Not many, and they talk mostly to each other. Not a big topic in other circles.

    But resentment of the obvious foolishness of such views leads the author to lend credence to Mr. Dennett's village-atheist style guesswork denigrating religion.

    It's not necessary to say there's something wrong with all religion to identify nonsense when you see it.

    A correct observation in the comment is that the people making huge profits believe these pseudo-religious false profundities about as much as IBM believes in open source. That should be sufficient to justify dismissing the excrement.
    Anton Philidor
    • Actually, I spend very little time...

      among "computer people." I moved out of Silicon Valley years
      ago because I wanted to see the world from the perspective of
      the Rest of Us. That said, I think it's a feature of the blogosphere
      that it talks amongst itself, not outside itself, so I concur that I
      am responding to computer people. They do, however, tend to
      dominate this forum and many other online ones discussed here
      on ZD Net, so plunge I must into that discussion.

      Now, to your comments about Mr. Dennett. I don't think I said or
      that he said there is something wrong with religion, rather the
      book I referenced is about what evolutionary forces may have
      contributed to the development of religiosity, which is
      undeniably a feature of <i>h. sapiens</i>. You may not like
      him, but I regard the discussion as an important one in the
      context of the marketers' willingness to tap those human needs
      when justifying blind acceptance of business models that can be
      unfair to users.

      Glad you took the time to ramble through the piece. Thanks.
      Mitch Ratcliffe
      • Mr. Dennett's dilemma.

        Considering that Mr. Dennett admits failure in his attempt to define religiosity beyond a set of behaviors, I think he'd not be much more informative than an anthropology text for your purposes.

        More specifically, you wrote:

        Now, to your comments about Mr. Dennett.
        I don't think I said or that he said there is something wrong with religion, rather the book I referenced is about what evolutionary forces may have contributed to the development of religiosity, which is undeniably a feature of h. sapiens.
        You may not like him, but I regard the discussion as an important one in the context of the marketers' willingness to tap those human needs when justifying blind acceptance of business models that can be unfair to users.

        I think that you're saying you can gain some understanding of the Why of human behaviors, the needs being met by both religion and the marketers who gull users.
        (There's an implication you may or may not have intended in the idea that studying religion teaches one how to gull people.)

        Now, to start, we know that Mr. Dennett is a "militant atheist", which means he's not studying religion from the inside. No "faith seeking understanding" for him.

        And we also know that Mr. Dennett gives up on discovering what people get from religious experience.

        Quoting from an interesting article about the book, Mr. Dennett starts out optimistic:

        Evolutionary theory, he says, can tell us why religion evolved and what it was meant to achieve, which means it can explain why the religious act the way they do.

        But by the end, he announces that all there is to study is behavior and not belief or reaction to religious activities.

        Quoting again:
        And so, in the end, Dennett gives up. When it comes to interpreting what people say about religion, he writes, "everybody is an outsider" (his italics), the natives and the anthropologists, the religious and the scientifically minded.
        Why? "Because religious avowals concern matters that are beyond observation, beyond meaningful test, so the only thing anybody can go on is religious behavior."

        The anthropologists already have that territory covered, and I don't think that those gulling users are inventing too many ceremonies. Besides annual conferences.
        Anton Philidor
        • Consideration vs. application

          Excellent points, and yet the one I am making is that Dennett's
          book, which I've read, challenges the reader to structure their
          inquiry into religion. He doesn't succeed, though I think the
          reviewer you mention quotes opportunistically, since Dennett
          does arrive at some conclusions about the utility of those
          behaviors that are relevant to this discussion. The sections on
          toxic memes and what I read as a thoughtful delineation of the
          chasm between policy and belief that the far right in the U.S. is
          trying to cross are very valuable. The fact that religous avowals
          can't be tested scientifically is not a winning point for the critic's
          argument, because the tests could be performed but they would
          be inhuman.

          I don't agree with everything he writes and find problems with
          specific points and styles of his arguments, but I think it's useful
          for readers. At the same time, I don't think it is possible to write
          about religion from an atheistic perspective without at least
          appearing to be "militant," especially now as compared to, for
          instance, 35 years ago.

          Am I endorsing the ideas or considering them? I think the latter,
          which is a reasonable bit of advice for those trying to
          understand why marketers try to convince consumers to trade in
          their freedoms and intellectual assets for a bit of software
          functionality and storage capacity.
          Mitch Ratcliffe
  • thx you mister

    you made my day
    i really deeply thxc you
  • Message has been deleted.

    • Message has been deleted.

      Mitch Ratcliffe
      • Message has been deleted.

  • do it yourself tech is liberating

    I believe in the Share Economy, Cluetrain, and Gonzo the brilliant bitter end.

    This is class struggle, never imagined by Marx or Freud.

    Derrida asked what psycho-analysis would be like if email existed in Freud's day.

    I see Swicki custom search engines putting search in the user, or web site/blog operator's hands.

    Do It Yourself blogs, search engines, library collections (Library Thing), etc. is the new wave of tech, that probably began with Evan Williams and Blogger, now Odeo.
    • And Blogger, Odeo and Google are about sharing?

      Please, consider that you jump from tools that are available and
      open-source, which are liberating by being easily modified, to
      corporate entities, which are profit-driven. Which are you
      endorsing? And if you are saying Blogger, now a part of Google
      after selling for a lot of money that wasn't "shared" with users, is
      a sharing economy in action, then how do you rationalize that?

      I've written about the need for sharing revenue with the source
      of the value, which in these cases are the users. That gets to the
      class struggle a lot more directly than holding on to a faith to
      the bitter, even if brilliant, end. Communism was just a system
      with too little imagination according to your argument. But
      you're saying the new wave is washing away distinctions that you
      probably are using to justify your argument. Which is it?

      Derrida is right to ask, but he would be wrong to preach what he
      thought email would do to psychoanalysis.
      Mitch Ratcliffe
  • Change the S.H.I.T

    Your article is informative and thought provoking. My concern falls to the structure of the entire field as we continue to see both continued attempts by greed motivated individuals to exploit the continuing rapid rate of change and those who hope to see the much desired Enlightenment incentive that you mentioned. Alvin Toffler wrote of the ongoing effect of increasing complexity on the human psyche. I'm wondering if our concern should be about possible coalitions between certainly visionary individuals who can intuit the direction of the techscape and those in the Topdown camp who realize the inevitability of eventual capability/understanding influence upon market/social conditions. If I read you correctly, you have already begun to see through the rhetoric of selfserving corporate considerations to a day when some modicum of credit is given to increasing individual awareness/facility. I don't believe that Kurzweil expects his, "Singularity," result to occur all that soon. I do however, visualize that we will continue to see personal influence on the outlying structure of the technical nature of society reach a critical mass. I hope that I have not misread your thesis and thanks for the audience.
    • Couple things....

      Actually, Kurzweil's talking singularity this century, as early as
      the 40s. Not an argument I want to get in here, though.

      I've written about the idea of "paramedia," coalitions of media-
      makers serving ideologies or interests. Unfortunately, I can't
      include the live link in TalkBack, but it is at http://
      and there's a podcast if you want to listen. It deals with the
      potential alliance of tech and top-down, but also about the
      power of individual voices working together.

      Even if we do transcend biology, Groucho Marx's joke that he'd
      never join a club that would have him as a member is an
      important signpost for people who believe they belong to a
      movement. So, yes, I agree that personal influence will remain at
      the edge, but will it be submerged in the mass by technological
      religions that deliver the ultimate irony, promising individual
      freedom while wiping out any possibility of acting alone?
      Mitch Ratcliffe
  • gum beating

    Please, no more rambling "stories" like this. Get to the point! This public masturbation is ruining ZDNet's reputation. I am getting getting ready to drop reading these stories if you keep throwing in pointless filler like this.
    • Feel free....

      Please, unsub from my blog if you don't like it. Be sure you
      distinguish between it and the ones on ZD you find useful.

      If you think it is somehow insulting or belittling to say I write too
      much, that reflection on current issues is bad and that only
      telegraphic writing is good, you're sadly mistaken. But, seriously, I
      don't need your approval for my ideas or writing. So, unsub or stay
      and argue with me. The choice is yours.
      Mitch Ratcliffe