Friday, January 18, 2013

The Shape of Freedom in Our Network Society

How we make information, how we get it, how we speak to others, and how others speak to us are core components of the shape of freedom in any society.

Individuals can reach and inform or edify millions around the world. Such a reach was simply unavailable to diversely motivated individuals before, unless they funneled their efforts through either market organizations or philanthropically or state-funded efforts. The fact that every such effort is available to anyone connected to the network, from anywhere, has led to the emergence of coordinate efforts, where the aggregate effect of individual action, even when it is not self-consciously cooperative, produces the coordinate effect of a new and rich information environment. (p.4)

For example,

One needs only to run a Google search on any subject of interest to see how the 'information good' that is the response to one's query is produced by the coordinate effects of the uncoordinated actions of a wide and diverse range of individuals and organizations acting on a wide range of motivations--both market and nonmarket, state-based and nonstate. (p.5)

In the industrial economy in general, and industrial information economy as well, most opportunities to make things that were valuable and important to many people were constrained by the physical capital requirements of making them. ... Financing the necessary physical capital ... oriented the necessarily capital-intensive projects toward a production and organizational strategy that could justify the investments. In market economies, that meant orienting toward market production. In state-run economies, that meant orienting production toward the goals of the state bureaucracy.  In either case, the practical individual freedom to cooperate with others in making things of value was limited by the extent of the capital requirements of production.

In the networked information economy, the physical capital required for production is broadly distributed throughout society.  Personal computers and network connections are ubiquitous. ... Whenever someone, somewhere, among the billion connected human beings, and ultimately among all those who will be connected, wants to make something that requires human creativity, a computer, and a network connection, he or she can do so---alone, or in cooperation with others. ... The result is that a good deal more that human beings value can now be done (by individuals, who interact with each other socially, as human beings and as social beings, rather than as market actors through the price system." (p.6)

from The Wealth of Networks (2006) by Yochai Benkler.

What a positive outlook on life and the potential of our time! What an optimist!
I am continuously inspired by the writings of Yochai Benkler, whose work was introduced to me in a rather philosophical course on Creative Business Strategies. Lecturer Aleksi Virtanen is an expert on biopolitics (the blurring of the lines between the economic and political spheres of life, which characterizes modernity) and has begun to introduce us to ways of thinking about business outside of the mainstream curriculum in schools of economics.  
Yochai Benkler is an Israeli-American professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard University. His book, The Wealth of Networks, is one of the most provocative socio-political-economic treatises I've ever read, and is published online as part of the creative commons. This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in how the world works.


  1. This must go onto my must-read list. I have to admit that I have found myself to be a bit of a dinosaur. As technically savvy as I am, and as comfortable as I am with computer systems and how they work, I must admit that there are aspects to this new economy which I don't naturally comprehend or understand.


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