What the Fake News Fiasco Means for Media, the One Percent and the 99% (of the Population, the Popular Vote and the Future of Advertising)

Traditionally – over the past century or so, retard media have used what Noam Chomsky refers to as a “propaganda” model which relies heavily on advertising:

ad-based media receive an advertising subsidy that gives them a price-marketing-quality edge, which allows them to encroach on and further weaken their ad-free (or ad-disadvantaged) rivals.

– Noam Chomsky, “Manufacturing Consent”, 14

Traditionally, advertisers have thereby supported mainstream news sources with a “vote of confidence” which involve both financial support and also brand / image support.

A mass movement without any major media support, and subject to a great deal of active press hostility, suffers a serious disability, and struggles against grave odds.

– ibid., 15-16

This was the media landscape for pretty much the entire 20th Century… and even today when people speak of “the media”, they usually mean such “mass media” or “mainstream media” corporations. For example: recently Robert Reich said in an interview with Amy Goodman (of “Democracy Now”):

The problem for the free press is that the more you have a president who is communicating directly through tweets and rallies, the less able are the press – or is the media – to be able to intermediate.

– (Democracy Now, “Robert Reich: Like a Tyrant, Trump Is Deploying Seven Techniques to Control the Media”, @ ca. 52 min.)

Mr. Reich apparently does not consider twitter.com (as in the quote above where he refers to “tweets”, he means messages published via that web site) to be a media organization.

In my opinion, twitter.com is a media organization – yet it is a very unreliable one. Many people refer to such organizations which allow anonymous user accounts to be created, such that people without any reliable identity are enabled to publish messages, as “social media” organizations (since they thereby apparently give all members of society a voice, or at least something like a “publishing platform”). Other companies operating in the “social media” space include most of the largest Silicon Valley “Web 2.0” corporations, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and many others, too. These companies typically earn most of their revenues by advertising schemes linked to the content the anonymous publishers create… including what has since the final outcome of the 2016 presidential election in the United States been referred to as “Fake News”.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election results, the population of the United States was quite obviously shocked that such advertising shenanigans are quite fundamental to the propaganda / media system (as described above and throughout Chomsky’s analysis, which is also surprisingly still relevant today, decades after it was first published).

One thing, however, occurred to me just the other day – and I think it’s an observation that although it seems blatantly obvious to me now, it has not even been considered in any significant way by the wider population. It is this: The financial foundation of the traditional media propagation system – mainstream advertising – is a matter of “the one percent” creating content for the 99 % to consume. The original revolutionary promise of the early internet and world-wide web was the specter of a multitude of publishers taking the reigns away from the closely held mainstream media corporations. The dotcom bubble and subsequent crash wiped that story from the table, and the generation of millennials probably never really caught that “bug”. Instead it was only remembered – if at all – as a traumatic nightmare… much like the Great Depression, it was more easily forgotten than explained, analyzed or even brought up. To engage in politically correct conversation meant to ignore that aberration, to put it off as the work of misguided or lost political activists, to consider as unworthy of polite discussion, to write it off as a fluke or folly, certainly of no consequence whatsoever.

Wall Street responded decisively and swept in with immediate and unrelenting action. Google was turned into a shareholder machine, and from that point on increasingly became Madison Avenue’s bitch. In order to make this acquisition go down like butter, there was no doubt some involvement on K Street, too – just as the DoubleClick acquisition seems to have also floated through without any reservations whatsoever. Today the manufacturing of Fake News is a process usually involving only a handful of companies, all of which are managed by the kinds of mechanics the publishing industry has dominated for well over a century. The owners have regained ownership of all of these crucial instruments. The new song is the same as the old song.

The 99% were simply left out in the cold. Many are illiterate, most lack other resources, and quite a few were simply locked up. Thanks, Obama!

America’s leading, Nobel-Prize winning economist dubbed this “The Great Recession”, noting that the “D-Word” was not allowed (I guess meaning something like: saying the D-word is impolite and might even have adverse consequences for an otherwise stellar career).

99% of the population were dumbfounded. What is more: Increasing numbers were transitioning to careers without jobs, like driving a car without any wage or salary to speak of. Many people began to see the world as “life without benefits”.

At some point, opium for the masses becomes a no-longer functional game plan. At some point, media is no longer the sacrosanct “intermediation” speaking “truth to power” (as Robert Reich says in the video linked to above). At some point, media becomes the enemy (or similar epithets Donald Trump often made use of).

Yet note again that Mr. Reich and Mr. Trump actually seem to agree as to what “the media” are (and aren’t). They are the retard media based on brand names and advertising, they are not the social media based on pipe dreams, Silicon Valley and the future. Whether new media are good or bad, there is nonetheless little doubt that old media have become disenfranchised.

Millennials will openly pull out their smartphones and manipulate them in public. Living in a fantasy world is a very neato thing to do when the real world is by comparison rather intolerable. They seem rather easily excited at the prospect of Steve Jobs, up there in heaven, being able to see their very own fingerprint. They have a hard on for allowing their hardware devices to transport them into the money. But of course it won’t.

The only place such a hardware device will transport a believing millennial is right into the lap of the 1%, who are ready, willing and perhaps thereby enabled to drain their bank account, to turn them off just as easily as to turn them on, and most of all to manipulate their belief system with Fake News. They asked for it. They signed up, and they got it. They have become card-carrying members of the opium-den machinery club, and they even worship it with complete steampunk fascination.

You know how this story ends. Our savior, Donald Trump, says he will Make America Great Again. Well you know what? In case he reads this, here is my message to the Donald: Help build the Underwriting Majority!

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That’s not really a Publication

I think a lot about publishing and related topics. Recently, it occurred to me that people quite often use the word “publish” quite liberally – in the sense of “to make public”. Well, that also happens to be the original sense of the term, I guess. But as far as I can tell, the meaning of the term went through a transition over two or three centuries following the invention of the printing press. Apparently, during this time another term was also used: a “publishment”, roughly equivalent to what most people today consider to be a publication.

Today, the term is really almost exclusively the result of what publishers do… and one thing publishers do quite regularly is to expect people to pay for publications. In that case, a publication doesn’t actually make very much public at all.

But then again: What does?

People have to pay money to watch a television or listen to a radio. The internet is not exactly free either. Walking down the street, you might shout out whatever you want to say – but the chance that the message would carry far is probably much smaller than the chance that you might get carried away.

Perhaps leaflets, fliers, billboards and other types of “outdoor advertising” might come closest to true publications. Thrown out of airplanes, such propaganda might even have quite wide circulation, especially if the message “goes viral” (i.e., if it’s widely “shared”, passed on, etc.).

Whereas these types of true publication have something very fundamentally in common with “self-published” publications – namely that pretty much the entire cost of publication is born by the message creator, only self-publishing is commonly singled out as being disreputable. This is probably because usually, to self-publish is interpreted to mean to publish “for profit” – in other words: not to make public per se, but rather (again) to publish only to a limited group… of paying customers.

However, since there is widespread agreement that the cost of many types of publication has become so infinitesimally small (and since the cost of consuming many types of publications has also become negligible), most publications today are indeed approaching true publication in leaps and bounds. Yet self-publication oddly remains plagued with something like the aura of a filthy undertaking. People continue to prefer reading the stuff “established publishers” (like Google or Facebook) publish – even if it is demonstrably “fake news” (in traditional publishing, this was also known as “propaganda”).

I find this very curious. I am not sure it is actually something someone might call a “rational behavior”.

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Information Markets: Messages + Marketing, Anonymity + Authentication

For many, many thousands of years, humans have almost exclusively communicated face-to-face. Some linguists estimate the beginnings of human language to have occurred somewhere around 75 thousand years ago… and if that were so then in my estimation for about the past 74 thousand years or so, we have continued to communicate with each other directly, with only a little bit of thin air to separate us. Facial expressions, intonation, and many other affects would always be part and parcel of human communications.

What is more, humans would usually exchange messages with people they knew. If someone wanted to buy something from someone else, then that someone else would only extremely rarely be a stranger. Usually, it would have been someone they knew very well.

Today, that is no longer the case. Something has changed in the past several hundred years, perhaps within the past millennium. If I were pushed to pick a particular point in time, a particular change, one particular thing, then I would say it was either the invention of the movable type printing press, or Martin Luther’s invention of German as a written language, perhaps both of those together … or at the very latest increasingly widespread literacy. Note that widespread literacy has not existed anywhere for more than about 200 years. It was not until the advent of offset printing took hold in the mid 19th Century that literacy became widespread enough to speak of anything like entire populations being literate, and even today a vast array of literacy levels continue to exist. Recognizing the golden arches as an indicator of the location of a McDonald’s is a vastly different capability than the ability to program a computer.

That said, it would be a great oversight to overlook other very significant changes that have taken place over the past 500 years. First and foremost: the scientific revolution. To some degree, this required increased literacy. Secondly, immense improvements in medicine, health care, and such, leading to expolsive growth in the global population. There are no doubt great volumes written about the repercussions of these changes – and it’s not my aim to rehash these here.

Yet one such change is indeed particularly noteworthy: the growth of markets and marketplaces. Above I suggested that for many tens of thousands of years, human natural languages developed and evolved to satisfy direct face-to-face communication. Within the past several centuries, however, we have become acquainted with and accustomed to an entirely new world – one in which an apparently „invisible hand“ guides many or even most of the exchanges that take place between humans. Whereas for innumerable millennia in the past, natural language was a matter of interpersonal communication, today language is an apparatus that we use to exchange ideas with very little knowledge of our communication partners, their level of literacy, or direct feedback from them regarding their understanding of our messaging. In the extreme case, messages are no longer actually directed at particular human recipients. Instead, they are merely logical expressions submitted to general, generic marketplaces of ideas.

In the early days of publishing, these marketplaces were by and large geographically defined – firstly because particular natural languages were limited to particular geographic locations, and secondly because high transportation costs limited trade to relatively small distances. Today, transportation costs are – by comparison – relatively insignificant. Indeed, the transportation costs of messages are now globally negligible. Today, messages are submitted to an ether which appears to transcend all space and time.

Today, our trading partners for messages are by and large unknown. For the past several decades, people everywhere have been complaining about „too much information“ (TMI). Often, they will remark that they are sending their messages „into the void“. 😐

Often, the target audience of such messages are seen as „eyes without a face“. Increasingly, though, the senders of messages are becoming more diligent about identifying and targeting particular „targeted“ audiences (and increasingly, such targeting is transitioning from „demographic“ targets to „psychographic“ targets). Yet so far, very little attention has been paid to the identity and reliability of message sources, and perhaps even less attention has been paid to the validity of the messages themselves.

To date, most of the attention being paid in this regard has been focused on rather whimsical statistics, rankings based on hogwash and recommendations based on brand names. Whether Google or Facebook, the New York Times or the Washington Post, the New England Journal of Medicine or Scientific American, these vacuous brand names need to be called into question. There needs to be an inquisition into whether brands can transmit messages of a particular nature – as valid and reliable sources of particular kinds of information. So far, the evidence leads to little more than thin ice.

Any company with enough money can quite easily pay the price to play the game of advertising: simply manipulate the suckers. Whether the suckers are morons with very limited literacy or academics with advanced college degrees, the advertising-based system of publishing is corrupt to the core.

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Rational Media as Alternative Currency

Perhaps it’s just me, but I feel as though there was a great deal of revolutionary enthusiasm for the notion of alternative currencies a decade ago (even before the financial crisis), but that there is now not even a murmur of interest in this area.

I find this quite odd – especially since there is so much talk about „big data“. How can it be that with so much data in the world, there doesn’t appear to be one iota of significance in it that is comparable to the „almighty dollar“, the bang for the buck, the global standard unit of money?

Well, in fact there is – it’s just that most people don’t know about it… at least not yet.

The reason they don’t know about it is because they are by and large illiterate. The reason they are illiterate is because their teachers hadn’t taught them anything about it. The reason their teachers didn’t teach their children well is that nobody had taught them anything about it either. The reason nobody had taught them was that nobody knew – or at least it seems like nobody thought that far to the conclusion of what would happen if the world they were building actually become the real world… the reality that is just now really coming into existence.

Last week, I wrote about one example of this: the new BLOG.

Today, I would like to widen the scope.

We could argue whether terms like „blog“ (or „app“) are real words or not. Odd as it may seem, I myself am actually quite hesitant to view natural language as something that can be defined and/or controlled by single organizations (such as WordPress or Google). Lest you think this might be some kind of secluded cyber-fantasy, you might do well to consider that thousands of organizations are doing the very same thing, including for example household brand names like Johnson&Johnson (who now own „baby“) or Amazon (who already own many names, including „book“ and „song“), and also many governments such as the City of New York (which owns „nyc“).

Note that ownership is a socially constructed concept – and as such it is quite comparable to the value of the greenback mentioned above. What is or isn’t an app – at least something like „something.app“ – will be for Google to decide, much in the same manner that money is a matter that has traditionally been regulated by governments.

I have written quite a bit about issues related to the meaning of such top-level domains and also whether they should be considered „generic“ or „proprietary“. Today, I want to emphasize (or re-emphasize) that this is basically a choice … of belonging or not belonging to a community. Just as using a monetary unit such as the US dollar is a matter of engaging with the community in the United States (and/or as using Chinese money is a matter of engaging with the community in China), so too is choosing to use „app“ or „blog“ or „book“ or „song“ a matter of engaging with the corresponding corporations and corporate governance, rules, regulations, etc. Some organizations will be more open (and „generic“), other organizations will be more closed (and „proprietary“), but in any case choosing to engage is always going to be a matter of community engagement.

In that sense, exchanging or trading in „app“ or „book is very similar to trading in euros or dollars … and in that vein, these top-level domains will function very much like trading or exchanging in alternative currencies.

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People who almost exclusively base their existence on retard media find the term unacceptable

I have found there is widespread disapproval to the term „retard media“. 😐

I find the disapproval is mostly down to people basing their identity, their social status, their character, etc. on the image of themselves presented in such media. They don’t care that the technology is retarded; or they do care – but mostly insofar as they do not wish their own name to be blemished with a term like „retarded“.

Apparently, they feel unable to liberate and/or emancipate themselves from brand names which they think are accepted by a sort of moral majority. They seem relatively unaffected by their own lacking literacy skills. They are much more concerned about how their image is affected. They do not want to promote scientific knowledge, transparency or the greater good. They want the optimized version of themselves – their „selfie“ image – to dupe people into thinking they are a celebrity, a wizard, a star or whatever.

Perhaps a concrete example will help to clarify the issue.

Alfred Nobel was the dude who started the Nobel Prize business. He also made a lot of money by selling explosives – in other words: his name is very closely associated with death, destruction, chaos, etc. So this guy comes up with a spectacular marketing gimmick: Give away prizes, and thereby cleanse his image as a result of how much people associate his name with wonderful people – the celebrated celebrities.

Mr. Nobel is long gone, but his prizes live on. I find it rather curious to consider how much money can be made from this explosive stuff, but apparently at least enough to pay for galas, ceremonies, all sorts of celebrations, let alone the prizes themselves. Then again, there are many people who will write about the whole circus, and so that is money the Nobel organization doesn’t have to spend on advertising. People who buy explosives from Nobel can rest assured that the money is going to an apparently „good cause“.

When Bob Dylan stepped onto stages a half a century ago, he would be very critical of such „Masters of War“. Today, he seems to be much more willing to accept their praise. It will be interesting to see / hear / read / whatever what this protest singer doth say about his literary past, and how he reconciles it with his more receptive present.

The point here is that „Nobel“ is simply a brand name – it is empty and meaningless… and as such it is an example of retard media par exellence. People may be able to fill it with shedloads of grandiose blather and hot air, but to a rational thinker – someone who has acquired enough literacy skills to see through the mind-numbing propaganda spiel – it remains empty and meaningless. Yet if Mr. Zimmerman is able to sell some more albums and perhaps a couple of books by graciously smiling and accepting the prize, then what would you expect a shrewd businessman to do?

He would probably do much the same thing that advocates of other retard media do: seek to profit from the promotional advertising for their own goods, products and services… and never once mention how incredibly bogus retard media truly is.

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The Whole 99% is Watching

Over the years, I have noticed a split between the type of people who pay attention to stuff that „happens“ online and those who don’t. They are not evenly split 50-50, at least not by population.

The main difference I have noticed is that those people who are less disposed to paying attention are those who feel they have something to lose – not necessarily by participating online, but rather more in general. In contrast, people who do participate online appear to act as if they have little or nothing to lose – again: whether online or in any other regard.

This is not a „clear cut“ matter – of course there are exceptions. One particularly notable exception is those people who earn their living by participating online. I guess another exception might be celebrities who feel forced to participate on the world-wide web. Yet by and large, most of these people belonging to „the 1 %“ minority do appear to prefer remaining in splendid isolation of the masses of „the 99%“.

It’s fascinating to observe an apparently related difference: The vast majority of those who refuse to participate are quite highly educated, many having advanced academic degrees. However, because they remain ignorant of online media, they usually lack literacy skills related to this sphere. So, ironically, the traditionally most literate seem to have now become the least literate.

All of this creates an image that is very reminiscent of a Marxist „Klassenkampf“ – with the online population by and large representing the popular proletariate, and the offline, more conservative crowd representing the establishment elites. At the same time, the media empires of yesteryear are increasingly becoming a refuge for the powerful but disinterested – a virtual sans soucci in glossy print and/or high resolution, wide screen formats.

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Science vs. Pseudo-Science

There is a quite popular myth which time and again gets propagated on the web – namely, that answers and solutions simply emerge from data all by themselves. This is very cute and also enticing to people who have little understanding about how science works, so there is no dearth of such novice pseudo-scientists who are willing to support the concept.

Nonetheless: It is complete hogwash.

That said, this week I posed a question to my so-called followers on a so-called social media website what they believe of the notion of „learning by doing“. It was mostly a hunch that motivated me to pose this question, but now I think I have been able to figure out some of my thinking behind it – and it seems to be somehow related to the above-mentioned concept of emergence.

Let me try to sketch out the basic of idea of my thinking at the moment.

One of the basic ideas behind so-called “scientific management” is that the basis of successful management (of tasks, projects, entire companies, etc.) is a reliance on what might be referred to as scientific facts – basically: ideas which have stood the test of time and/or “results” from scientifically designed research.

In my question, in contrast, I asked: “What if the indoctrination of such observations, facts, etc. is expensive?” I compared a “learning by doing” hypothetical example in which 10 people jumped into water, 9 learned how to swim, but one drowned with a situation in which 10 people were taught to swim by an instructor. To clarify my point, I also asked: “What if teaching 10 people to swim is more expensive than feeding 100 starving children?”

In a way, the 9 people who emerged from the water in the hypothetical example learned how to swim by not drowning are an example of something very similar to what advocates of emergence seem to be arguing for: We don’t need science, we can just “wing it” instead.

In my additional remark comparing the price of one drowned person with the cost of a hundred starving children, I wanted to underscore the way the opportunity cost of either method is by no means zero.

What is more: We actually “wing it” every day. Taken to the extreme, it should be readily obvious that the world as we experience it today has never existed before. We can assume it is similar, we can try to “control” for this or that assumed variable, but in the end it essentially boils down to Einstein’s famous remark that “God does not play dice”.

Unfortunately, I still have not found an answer to the question I posed that I am happy with.

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Social Sustainability

The concept of „sustainability“ has to do with whether or not a technology can continue to exist for years, decades and centuries to come (and/or whether or not market forces will sustain the technology or not). For example, while the oil-based economy may continue to exist for many years to come, it is not clear when and/or how it will function in one, two, three or more centuries out.

Traditionally, introductory economics textbooks used to simplify economic resources into capital and labor. At that point, energy was not even mentioned as part of the equation (E.F. Schumacher, by the way, treated oil and similar natural resources as „capital“ – he often noted that an „oil based“ economy was unsustainable because we thereby simply do little or nothing more than to destroy the capital).

I noticed several decades ago that information is, in a way, a substitute for energy: You can either do something by applying huge amounts of brute force, or you may be able to achieve the same goal by refining your technique (with the help of information) in order to use less energy. There are many examples of this over history. For example: traveling by bicycle instead of by foot (though note how the establishment of smooth road surfaces also plays a role here), or various newer (and more energy-efficient) technologies have replaced – via market forces – the incandescent light bulb.

Nonetheless: One is very hard-pressed to refer to the 20th Century as anything other than extremely energy-inefficient. On the whole, the 20th Century was, in contrast, quite energy intensive, and increasingly human-resource saving. As a result, because we have witnessed a rather enormous growth in so-called „human resources“ for several centuries now, we now have a very large supply of humans and also very little demand. What is more, advances in information technology have further exacerbated these trends, such that we now face rapidly increasing unemployment for the foreseeable future.

There is great irony in the widespread failure to recognize that more machinery is being used to do more work, and the widespread surprize that ever fewer „employment“ opportunities for humans are seen as a catastrophy (even though there has been widespread propaganda for many decades which push the idea that human labor „ought to“ be replaced by the increased employment of more and more machines).

Yet only a very foolish person would not pay attention to a wider time horizon.

There is no doubt that the consumption non-renewable resources will come to an end at some point in time – this is tautologically true (by definition), so there is no doubt whatsoever. At some point, people will realize that there is an oversupply of human resources and an undersupply of non-renewable resources (compared to the current rates of consumption). Presently, however, the high growth rates of information resources due to the introduction of vastly more efficient information technologies apparently will continue to blind the masses. While the growth of information resources inputs are to some extent a substitute for energy resources, it is quite astonishing to note how little such substitution has taken place over the past several decades.

Indeed: This last observation puzzles me greatly.

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Social Keywords

Some words – usually referred to as „synonyms“ – have essentially the same or at least very similar meanings. While I fee there is no such thing as a perfect synonym (in the sense that the words would mean exactly the same thing), many words are used quite liberally interchangeably by people who seem to not really be completely familiar with their more exact meaning.

This post is not about that.

What I want to address here is that some words seem like they could be used interchangeably – if not for the „minimal difference“ in the „social“ meaning. It appears as though these words could be applied to the same situations, except they say something different about those particular situations.

Let me present you with a couple examples of some such cases which have recently crossed my mind.

Ignore vs. Neglect: I recently wrote about the rationality of ignorance. Ignorance and neglect differ not so much in what the activity is, but rather more with respect to what are the activity’s results (in the eyes of the speaker [or author / writer]). The result of ignorance is that the subject is less well off. With neglect, the object of the verb is less well off.

Change vs. Disrupt: Change is relatively neutral or even positive. In contrast, disrupt is usually considered to be negative to at least someone (or something). If something is negative (shocking, etc.) to many, then one might consider it to be revolutionary.

Hence, many words which mean almost the same thing, differ in a „value judgement“ sort of way – and such value judgements usually rely on something like some kind of social mores, social values, etc.

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The Intention Economy

Several years ago, it became very fashionable to talk about something called the ”attention economy”. I think the analysis was valid, but one-sided. Economics is not about just one single, particular thing – it’s about the way all things in the world are related. Often, it reduces them to statistics before reaching a policy judgement. Only a simpleton would argue that the free market solves everything – I suggest that such simpletons should try out an unregulated market for deciding which side of the road to drive your vehicle: they could take the free market highway to hell, and I would continue to traverse the regulated route in splendid isolation from their chaotic crashes.

Well, so if the attention economy only gives part of the full story, then what explains the rest of it? One thing that is quite central to the economic view is the notion of supply and demand. Where does attention fit in here?

Attention is a little abstract. You can’t really measure it. It’s quite difficult to even come up with an operational definition of what might even pass as ”attention”. Broadly speaking it falls within the scope of what is more generally considered to be communication, in particular: receiving messages (and understanding them – i.e., recognizing them, in the language of pattern recognition). I am therefore inclined to interpret this as ”demand” (for information).

What about the supply side? One friend of mine who has more experience than I do in areas which might be referred to as ”supply” (of information) once explained to me how information sort of means ”bringing stuff in form” – i.e., forming the message in a way that it can be received (well), that it can be understood, etc.

Hence, we are really talking about a market for literacy: about how to create messages (i.e., supply them), and how to interpret them (i.e., how to receive them – the demand side of the equation). If I were to say ”how to encode and decode messages”, some people might think I am referring to secret messages – but in reality we encode and decode the meanings we wish to communicate pretty much all the time, without even thinking about it very much at all.

Several decades ago, Ludwig Wittgenstein formulated one of his most quoted ideas: ”Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen”. In my humble opinion, he was wrong – at least partially. His primary focus was the analysis of language as a set of rules – and indeed: at any particular point in time, language may very well function that way. However: Language does undergo evolution over time. Therefore, if we cannot say something we want to say at one point in time, we change language in order to be able to say it at the next point in time. Shakespeare apparently did this a lot. If we didn’t continue to do it, we wouldn’t be able to talk about speed limits and other traffic regulations, constitutional amendments, space flight or perhaps even about evolution itself.

In other words: Any thought we have, any message we wish to convey, can be formulated (this notion of the ability to convey messages clearly was actually also of central concern to Wittgenstein) – but it may take a while to change the system in order to not only assimilate the idea, but also to accommodate the ”messaging capability” (for more on ”assimilation” and ”accommodation” – two central concepts in Jean Piaget’s work – please refer to the vast literature in  his tradition [and in that vein also to Herbert Simon’s work related to systems and organizations]).

Today, we have – all of a sudden – become able to formulate messages with great ease. What previously required very large investments can today be done at a marginal cost of … very close to zero. Yet while in recent years monumental and revolutionary advances have taken place with respect to the ”external” technology required, very little seems to have changes with respect to the human capabilities required – i.e., the ”internal” technology, which I refer to as literacy.

If you take a moment to consider the historical perspective, then the reason why there is such a huge discrepancy between external and internal capabilities becomes immediately obvious: over the past five centuries, a very large industry named ”publishing” was formed around the idea that publishing messages was very costly, and therefore that great care was required in order to to publish ”fail” messages. Today, both prize-winning eloquence and also sheer stupidity can be published equally at the drop of a hat.

Now, data floods onto websites at rates that far exceed our capability to pay attention to them.

In order to separate the babble from the best, we need to reward intention.

Traditionally, intention has been an internal characteristic – something like a personal and individual motivation. Today, intention can be externalized by mapping internal intentions onto external, linguistic constructs. Using ”language technology”, your intent to buy a car or sell a car becomes blatantly obvious via your use of language strings such as ”car”, ”cars”, ”auto”, ”autos”, etc.

Before I end this post, I want to point out one very important caveat. There was another term which was coined several years ago which seems to play a crucial role in this discussion, namely the notion of ”vendor relationship management” (VRM). The idea was basically a sort of futuristic software application that was supposed to intermediate between the intentions on the part of consumers and the supportive engagement on the part of producers (and/or service providers). Yet such software is actually not abstract at all – vast numbers of people use such software on a daily basis. Just to give you two common examples, one is called “Google”, another is called “Facebook”.

By mentioning these household brand names, you might think I have wasted your time by telling you something you already knew. Yet here is the significant difference: “Google” and “Facebook” are not language – they are brand names (i.e., registered trademarks). Since a brand does not mean anything, it also doesn’t intend anything. They are as empty and meaningless as a blank page, a blank stare, as blank, empty space. They are nothing more than an empty search box with the promise of connecting you to a positive result. They offer you a free lunch, and their target audience are suckers ready to buy that, who they can use to turn a profit, who can be sold down the river to companies ready, willing and able to pay for that.

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