The Internet Gets Low Marks as “Autonomous Agency”
Medium can help improve that…
Imperialism ain’t what it used to be. It’s something different and more dangerous. Thanks to globalization reaming its way around the globe, chasing after ever-available neoliberal opportunities to exploit, just about every person on the planet has become an exploitable resource to one or more “independent agencies” holding sway over them. Historically, the “laws of the land” as implemented by government was holder of that sway, but that is no longer the case.
We accept the autonomous agency of government by habit — without thinking — but also by habit, we overlook other real sources of exploitive agency. Multilateral agencies like the UN, IMF, WTO, World Bank &c…these autonomous agencies impinge on nation state autonomy. Then of course, multinational corporations also exert autonomous pressures on nations — sometimes rivaling national governments in their influence. In other words, there are a number of “autonomous agents” holding sway over all our lives worldwide. The internet is one of them.
Not to put too sharp a point on it, the internet is hardly doing a better job of responsibly exercising its autonomous agency than Donald Trump’s foreign policy is.
There are two issues I encounter in media that make me cringe: “blasphemy” & “monetization.” Blasphemy is always attached to some fundamentalist doctrine & monetization to some “business model.” Blasphemy results in going to whatever doctrine’s putative hell & probably taking some others with you. Internet monetization’s fundamental doctrine — the “business model” — currently condemns billions of people (or the largest possible percentage of them) to a literal hell of commercial exploitation. I do not believe this evil reality is the real goal internet & social media people believe, or think of themselves as pursuing.
Instead, I think they righteously believe they have something really good for the world — that they must monetize in order to exist — let alone expand.
Medium is to be congratulated for its efforts to confront monetary survival in ways that go beyond clicky-click advertising methods. It attempts to provide a truly better space for members, contributors & visiting readers. That’s a big step in the right direction. Bravo!
Exploration & Discovery
But. Getting back to the internet as autonomous agency… Monetization-for-survival is the slipperiest of slopes. Government was first to succumb to focus on its own autonomy — empowering & sustaining itself & its own power over the people it was intended to serve & empower. Over time, business has been able, in effect, to buy the power of government — to itself become an autonomous agent — practically all over the world. Usurped power is power subject to further usurpation. I personally believe the internet can do better than that. But not by using exactly the same model: monetizing people.
I hope Medium continues to be a Darwin-aboard-the-Beagle, exploring for the sake of the discovery of knowledge, rather than a Columbus or Cortez or Dewey, exploring in the interests of empire. The internet is still young. (Hell, we’ve just barely quit capitalizing it!) There are — there must be — other ways to deal with the “new world” than imperialism. I believe Medium is one of the discovery explorers. So as much as the paywall & “claps” & other things about the newest go-round bothers the shit out of me sometimes, I…er, applaud the entire effort.
It’s unlike me to be thoughtfully critical, rather than just plain ol’ raw, from the gut, take-no-prisoners critical — but this is a thought provoking set of issues. What remains in the present model that sets my teeth on edge the way the word “blasphemy” does? It’s the way that so much of it’s about money.
Bitch, bitch, bitch
Do you mean to tell me that money is the only way to gain privilege & access on Medium? In the past year, I delivered about 3hrs worth of original material to Medium as publication & as much or more as engagement, comment &, just perhaps, community building.
I share Medium-published pieces on other social media perhaps a hundred times a month, read & interact with even more, & encourage other talented people to sign up, follow writers, read, comment &c… Granted that’s a comparatively paltry basket of contributions, but it’s a part of the platform’s bread & butter.
And yet, almost 50% of the pieces on my “Medium Daily Digest” email — in other words, the writers & publications the algorithm recognizes as the ones I follow most closely — are behind the paywall & the only cure for that is MONEY.
No matter how much better the new Medium model may be, it is still imperialism. It might as well be Facebook (where I long ago gave up & just entered under ‘employment’ on my profile, “Sharecropper at Zuckerberg Plantation”), insofar as my being the exploitable resource of an extractive industry.
If I continue providing value to Medium in ways that don’t involve money, why can’t Medium reward me in ways that don’t involve money?
Internet could (& IMO should) become a new form of anti-imperialism — an effective counterweight to the plethora of predatory autonomous agents presently doing such a destructive job of running/ruining the world. Part of that involves getting beyond money as the sole measure of contributor worth.
So, Medium creates value. Good…great! But what would be wrong with an exchange of non-monetary value? Why, for instance, can’t my contributions to Medium be rewarded with additional access? Medium already has our numbers…most of it’s simple addition like what I just rattled off above for myself. It’s not like it would be an easy-to-game system. Who would bother to publish hours & hours of bullshit non-material here in exchange for a few extra paywall stories per month? Way too much trouble for too little reward — & terribly easy to spot!
But what such a system would be, is an encouragement (by rewards other than the monetary or ego kind) of the very sort of community Medium has always sought to form. Ev Williams has expressed his commitment to Medium being “about the words,” yet we don’t trade in words…we purely exchange words for money & money for words.
Countering My Decline
Frankly, I find myself publishing less & less here. Part of that is watching so much material that I would normally read — that I want to read — locked behind the paywall. I’ve been tempted to unfollow some of my favorite writers just to make more room on my Daily Digest & Medium feed for writers I can read. But I don’t want to do that because I’m really interested in & feel in some ways, involved with, the writers I follow.
Another thing that’s hampered my writing for Medium has been the feeling that there’s a game being played of which I’m not a part. I got no complaints about people maximizing their income from Medium. More power to them! But I hate feeling that’s the only game in town.
This isn’t about what a deep slump my Medium stats have fallen into — though I’m presently grateful they don’t allow negative numbers — if they did, I’d have some. Instead, it’s about internet, social media & Medium working toward being the kind of responsible autonomous agent the modern world so badly needs. An alternative to imperialism — a better approach to exploring this new world than simply dividing it up for monetary profit.