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.
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.
A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100
(Image: Red Wing Shoes Factory Tour, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 94693506@N00's photostream)
Christopher Brown is a gonzo cyberpunk writer who delves into the real-world story of Saddam Hussein’s Frank Frazetta collection, but by day he’s a high-powered lawyer who’s worked in government and the private sector (it’s the intersection of these two Browns that penned his outstanding, forthcoming debut novel, Tropic of Kansas, which you should pre-order […]
NSO is an Israel cyberarms dealer, which buys or researches vulnerabilities in software and then weaponizes them; claiming that these cyberweapons will only be used by democratic governments and their police forces to attacks serious criminals and terrorists — a claim repeated by its competitors, such as Italy’s Hacking Team and Gamma Group.
Everybody knows about the ridiculous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit where a lady who spilled coffee on her lap got millions out of McDonald’s in damages for a frivolous lawsuit — and everyone is wrong. As we’ve previously reported, Stella Liebeck sued McDonald’s after sustaining permanently disfiguring third-degree burns to her genitals and thighs because McDonald’s […]
What could be more fun than a slingshot that shoots tiny airplanes? A slingshot that shoots tiny glowing airplanes of course! These toy planes are outfitted with ultra-bright LEDs, so you can fly all night without losing them in the trees.Whether you are a regular-sized child, or an overgrown adult one, these light-up flyers offer […]
You know the drill. You go to the dentist and they ask you how often you floss. You lie through your teeth and say, “every day!” (Bonus points if you have some cilantro or chives stuck in your gums from lunch). You don’t want to keep up the charade any longer, but rubbing that tiny strand […]
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has done outstanding work packing a fully capable desktop computer into a package the size of a deck cards—especially one that only costs $35. But if you already have a working laptop, why should you care? Oh, how much you have to learn. Besides operating well as a compact digital media hub, […]