Rambling about creativity and capital and content and frames

In this context of creativity and web, Jonathan Zittrain, or JZ as he gets called, made a number of critical points in his excellent book The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It cover.jpg One of those key points is to do with the “generative” web, the phrase he uses to describe the open and innovative and creative aspects of the web; JZ spends time articulating the rise of locked-down devices, services and whole environments as a direct response to the ostensibly anarchic nature of the generative web, with its inherent vulnerabilities and weaknesses. … ] The implied tension between “generative” and “secure” that is to be found in JZ’s book, resonated, in a strange kind of way, with some of the ideas in Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: 184376331101lzzzzzzz.jpg The book remains one of my all-time favourites, I’ve probably read it a dozen times since it was published.

The tragic death of Michael Jackson has dominated much of the news this past week, even overshadowing the Iran situation in some quarters. Strange but true. Jackson’s death has had some unusual consequences, as people try and deal with their own reactions in different and creative ways. While the original story broke, I believe, on TMZ, Twitter was the river that carried the news to the world.

And Twitter was overwhelmed. Which meant the arrival of the much-loved Fail Whale:

whale.png

Which led someone to come up with this:

3661418856_0a86b4884e.jpg

This concerned a small number of people, who were worried that the image may cause offence. Which in turn led someone else to this:

2009-06-30_2203.png

And so it went on, as people sought more and more creative ways of expressing their emotions and paying tribute to Michael Jackson. Wallpaper downloads. Posters. Photographs. Videos. Collages and montages. All in double-quick time. For me the most creative was this mashup:

2009-06-30_2210.png

BillieTweets. Where someone has taken a Billie Jean video and made the lyrics visual using tweets where the relevant word has been highlighted. Follow the link to see how it works. [Thanks to the Scobleizer for the heads-up. And safe travels.].

All this is part of the magic of the web, the value that is generated when people have the right access and tools and ideas. Human beings are so incredibly creative.

In this context of creativity and web, Jonathan Zittrain, or JZ as he gets called, made a number of critical points in his excellent book The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It

cover.jpg

One of those key points is to do with the “generative” web, the phrase he uses to describe the open and innovative and creative aspects of the web; JZ spends time articulating the rise of locked-down devices, services and whole environments as a direct response to the ostensibly anarchic nature of the generative web, with its inherent vulnerabilities and weaknesses. [If you haven’t read the book, do so, it’s worth it. ]

The implied tension between “generative” and “secure” that is to be found in JZ’s book, resonated, in a strange kind of way, with some of the ideas in Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital:

184376331101lzzzzzzz.jpg

The book remains one of my all-time favourites, I’ve probably read it a dozen times since it was published. And given away many many copies, something I have done with a very small number of books, including: The Social Life of Information, The Cluetrain Manifesto and Community Building on The Web.

The resonant piece was this: One of Perez’s seminal findings was the difference between financial capital and production capital.

In Perez’s view, financial capital “represents the critera and behaviour of those agents who possess wealth in the form of money or other paper assets….. their purpose remains tied to having wealth in the form of money (liquid or quasi-liquid and making it grow. To achieve this purpose, they use …. intermediairies …. The behaviour of these intermediaries while fulfilling the function of making money from money that can be observed and analysed as the behaviour of financial capital. In essence, financial capital serves as the agent for reallocating and redistributing wealth.

Perez goes on to say that “the term production capital embodies the motives and behaviours of those agents who generate new wealth by producing goods or performing services.

Through these distinctions, she clearly delineates the differences between the “process of creating wealth and the enabling mechanisms”; these distinctions are then played out through a number of “surges” or paradigm shifts. An incredible book.

For some time now, I’ve been wrestling with the connections between Zittrain’s generative web and Perez’s production capital, and formed my own views of the progressive-versus-conservative tensions that can be drawn from such a juxtaposition.

All this came to the fore again in the context of copyright and content, as I read Diane Gurman’s excellent First Monday piece on Why Lakoff Still Matters: Framing The Debate On Copyright Law And Digital Publishing

I give the abstract of the article here:

In 2004, linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff popularized the idea of using metaphors and “frames” to promote progressive political issues. Although his theories have since been criticized, this article asserts that his framing is still relevant to the debate over copyright law as applied to digital publishing, particularly in the field of scholarly journals. Focusing on issues of copyright term extension and the public domain, open access, educational fair use, and the stewardship and preservation of digital resources, this article explores how to advocate for change more effectively — not by putting a better “spin” on proposed policies — but by using coherent narratives to frame the issues in language linked to progressive values.

Reading the article took me back to Perez and to Zittrain. Our Lakoffian frames of “strict father” and “nurturant parent” are in many ways congruent with the generative-versus-secure and production-versus-financial continua described by JZ and Carlota. As Gurman says:

Lakoff’s nurturant parent embodies values of equality, opportunity, openness and concern for the general welfare of all individuals. Under the progressive economic model, markets should serve the common good and democracy…. The strict father frame, on the other hand, centres on issues of authority and control. The moral credo expresses the belief that if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest they will become prosperous and self-reliant. The favoured economic model is that of a free market operating without government interference.

A free market operating without government interference. Hmmm I remember those.

Despite the credit crunch, the economic meltdowns, the rise in fraud, despite the socialisation of losses and the privatisation of gains that ensued, many things have not changed. And they must. We need to move to a generative internet production capital world. And for that maybe we need to think about what Diane Gurman is saying.

We need to frame our arguments around our values rather than just on the facts and figures; we need to weave a coherent narrative based on public benefit via empowerment and access.

We can see the implications of this divide in many of the arguments that are being had in the digital domain. For example, the recent announcement by Ofcom of its intention to enforce regulated access to premium (and hitherto exclusive) content is a case in point, where the same arguments prevail.

The response of the incumbent, while understandable, is benighted. You only have to look at the public benefit implications, particularly those to do with human progress and innovation.

The returns expected from production capital differ from those expected out of financial capital for a variety of reasons; the most important reason is that when you’re in the business of creating value and wealth, rather than redistributing it, the returns tend to be somewhat less than astronomical.

3 thoughts on “Rambling about creativity and capital and content and frames”

  1. “the difference between financial capital and production capital” as described seems quite similar to Thorstein Veblen’s distinction between Business (ie financial capital) and Industry (ie production capital) in his Theory of Business Enterprise (1904). The idea has certainly been around a while but has never caught on in economic theory. I also think Max Weber’s spirit of capitalism (the protestant ethic and all that) matches to the production capital side whereas Werner Sombart’s ideas on the nature of capitalism tend more toward the financial capital side.

    The key point is that both sides are needed, just as a balance must be kept between the generative and secure ‘aspects’ of social networks (not just ‘digital’ social networks but also ‘physical’ – refer Scott Berkun’s recent blog post on hyping social networks).

  2. I’m not claiming to have read Das Kapital in full or to be any sort of economist, but the tension between the generative and secure webs and between financial capital and production capital has a familiar ring.

    Perhaps we are in the agricultural phase of the web (still!) and we are seeing Primitive Accumulation and the rise of the capitalist farmer?

    If so, we know what comes next…the Industrial Revolution followed inevitably by political revolution :-)

  3. Re: the minor point and the creative response on twitter: I think the fail whale has become a kind of “authorised graffitti wall”, the place where the “authorities” give you permission to rebel.

Let me know what you think