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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