Venkatesh Rao's tour-de-force blog-post, "A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100," is an attempt to synthesize several accounts of economic trends and the institutions that fuel and benefit from them, primarily corporations. Beginning with the age of mercantilism and the East India Company's many bubbles and busts (not to mention ruthless conquests and brutal consolidations); Rao moves onto the "Schumpeterian" era where growth was driven by innovation and the "colonization of time" in the form of "labor-saving" devices that let corporations capture more value from their workers. Rao concludes with a brief section on the current era, the "Coasean" period in which individuals, coordinating among each other, are at center stage -- basically, maker culture. Part history lesson, part economic speculation, Rao's essay is provocative, a little esoteric, well-written and challenging.
Take an average housewife, the target of much time mining early in the 20th century. It was clear where her attention was directed. Laundry, cooking, walking to the well for water, cleaning, were all obvious attention sinks. Washing machines, kitchen appliances, plumbing and vacuum cleaners helped free up a lot of that attention, which was then immediately directed (as corporate-captive attention) to magazines and television.
A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100
But as you find and capture most of the wild attention, new pockets of attention become harder to find. Worse, you now have to cannibalize your own previous uses of captive attention. Time for TV must be stolen from magazines and newspapers. Time for specialized entertainment must be stolen from time devoted to generalized entertainment.
Sure, there is an equivalent to the Sun in the picture. Just ask anyone who has tried mindfulness meditation, and you'll understand why the limits to attention (and therefore the value of time) are far further out than we think.
The point isn't that we are running out of attention. We are running out of the equivalent of oil: high-energy-concentration pockets of easily mined fuel.
The result is a spectacular kind of bubble-and-bust.
(Image: Red Wing Shoes Factory Tour, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 94693506@N00's photostream)
In 2010, after years of bitter fighting, the French National Assembly passed “Hadopi,” the worst copyright law in history, which provided for disconnecting whole families from the Internet if their network connection was implicated in an accusation of copyright infringement.
Printer manufacturer Lexmark hates America, and everything good and right in the world, because we keep stubbornly insisting that if we buy a printer cartridge, we can refill it, because it’s ours.
Since the late 1970s, the American conservative movement has been an uneasy — and unstoppable — alliance of big-business-friendly finance boosters and poor, evangelical Christians whose major issues were things like gay marriage, abortion, and forcing women into “traditional” gender roles, not taxation and “small government.”
You may not love Microsoft Word, but you’ve definitely used it. Other than being one of the most ubiquitous programs on the planet, it’s been the go-to word processing system for more than a quarter-century because it’s as basic as it gets. But occasionally, you’ve got assignments that beg for a lot more options than simple […]
Almost everyone has their smartphone in a case of one kind or another. Beyond simple protection, finding a case that can charge your phone on its own, but doesn’t feel like it’s also adding a couple pounds to the phone’s weight is the tricky part. Billed as the world’s thinnest battery case, the ThinCharge iPhone […]
You never know when new projects, ideas or opportunities can drop into your lap at a moment’s notice. That may require you to learn a new programming language like Python. Or maybe you need a primer on 3D game development. Or you might realize you could use a serious brush-up on iOS mobile creation.Point is, […]