It seems to me that the relationships we have when we exchange money fit into three eras:
- Era 1: Person to Person: Say I am a shoe maker in your village. You buy your shoes from me, Drew. Your shoes are Drew’s shoes. I sold them to you, Rich. If you have a problem, you talk to me. We’ve known each other for years. But you likely won’t have a problem, since you also know I make good shoes.
- Era 2: Brand to Person: As the Industrial Revolution remade everything, to stay competitive I opened a factory to make more shoes, more cheaply. But the factory was only half the innovation I needed to sell people who I didn’t know shoes. I also needed another invention, the brand. The brand was trust distributed. Done well, a brand creates the sensation of a personal relationship with a company. It’s fake, of course. But we work much harder on them and invest much more money and time. The Industrial Revolution needed a revolution in mass media to support the distribution of goods beyond the horizon. We had to invent trust to carry them.
- Era 3: Augmented Person to Person: This is a hybrid age. One of cyborgs. With ubiquitous communication and many open channels, it is now possible for people to talk to many more people, individually, than was previously possible. The social media manager or modern customer support rep will talk to you through a web page or pop-up in Twitter or in What’s App. Suddenly, Pizza Hut will have a conversation with you. It is low bandwidth, unlike your relationship with shoemaker me, but it is one to one (barely).
That last era is fuzzy. It seems like the present always is, but we’re undoubtably partway out of the second era. It’s an awkward transition and we’re all just figuring it out.