Blurring online & offline social networking & economics.
July 16, 2010 11:04 AM   Subscribe

In 2060, "The Guy Who Worked For Money" is unusual.

In a short story, Benjamin Rosenbaum reflects on a reputation economy, a society in which socializing can be fraught with constant online footnotes, critiques & kudos from observers both in-person & remote.

He's blogged a making of, with more thoughts on capitalism & the pros & cons of a reputation economy.

(via Bruce Sterling's Twitter)
posted by Pronoiac (28 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Relatedly, you can find Bruce Sterling's excellent "Maneki Neko", about people living in a gift economy regulated by cellphones, online, though since I don't know if he's authorized it to appear online or not, I won't link it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:10 AM on July 16, 2010

Not that much will change in 50 years. 2160, perhaps.
posted by parallax7d at 11:26 AM on July 16, 2010

50 years ago, you couldn't even say the word pregnant on TV. Now we've seen the inside of our news anchors colons and one of the most talked about shows (True Blood) has graphic violence, sex, and nudity. The world can change a lot in 50 years.
posted by Megafly at 11:50 AM on July 16, 2010

You know how if you can't say anything nice you shouldn't say anything at all? Well, I guess that's all I have to say.
posted by aspo at 11:51 AM on July 16, 2010

From 2060: "Working for money? That's crazy. Hey I'll trade you 153,321 FarmVillions for your Halo 14 Sniper Rifle Model R."
posted by geoff. at 11:53 AM on July 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

That entire piece gave me the hives. Not so much the just in time nature of people communally doing work for each other, that was neat, but the invasive lack of anonymity. It's all the invasiveness of Facebook with all of the consequences of the stock market.

I do think that the "person who works for money" in the story wouldn't be as much of an out-lier. There will always be ghosts in the system, the introverts, the lonelies, lawbreakers, scofflaws, etc.
posted by zabuni at 11:54 AM on July 16, 2010

Ah, and looking around the site, he has another vignette about off the grid people:


"Don't you quote the founders at me," Derya snaps. "The Free Society is fragile. The minute enough people find anticontributive behavior cool, the party's over -- it's back to capitalist competition or state control." He stares until you meet his eye. "You even talk to those people -- are you paying attention? -- you even *talk* to them, your rep will be trashed on *all* the major servers. You won't work, you won't party, you'll be defriended by every one of your tribes. Got it?"
posted by zabuni at 12:01 PM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

By Torley Linden!
posted by clarknova at 12:02 PM on July 16, 2010

Oh wait, Torley just made the mushroom graphic.
posted by clarknova at 12:05 PM on July 16, 2010

Related post.
posted by homunculus at 12:08 PM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by grubi at 12:13 PM on July 16, 2010

Ah crap. I just posted this story and stuff about Benjamin Rosenbaum without seeing this. I assume mods will remove that post.

Rosenbaum intended for this story to stir up some debate though. He is imagining/creating a world using systems we are unfamiliar with yet that exist theoretically and presenting it in a nuanced way. Speculative literature as a lens for understand rather than as a platform for warning or uncritical utopian praising is both informative and entertaining. Because no matter the economic system/social model, the lasers still go pew pew.
posted by Chipmazing at 12:14 PM on July 16, 2010

Income is already highly dependent on social status and reputation, especially writers.
posted by humanfont at 12:21 PM on July 16, 2010

50 years ago, you couldn't even say the word pregnant on TV.

Fifty years ago you also could not film two people intimately in bed together (or film a toilet bowl) without running afoul of the Production Code. A lot can indeed change in 50 years.
posted by blucevalo at 12:28 PM on July 16, 2010

Income is already highly dependent on social status and reputation, especially writers.

Only in the sphere of employment. For writers, that's the public sphere, but for non-public citizens, we work, we go home, and what we do there doesn't reflect on our income, unless it's brought into the sphere of work. Although with the Internet, the ability to find information about people means that the division between the two has become less.

That's what the Blizzard Real ID thing was about. People lead their private lives, playing video games, and didn't want that information to be easily searchable, and thus, brought by someone into another area of their lives, like the workplace.

Most of us has masks that we wear, parts of our lives that corner off from the rest of our self. This story has the entire shebang linked, and judged in real time by people in the same geographic space.
posted by zabuni at 12:33 PM on July 16, 2010

zabuni, you're not alone in feeling creeped out - it's definitely not meant to be a utopia. I doubt I'd be comfortable there. Privacy & introverts wouldn't fit in well, I think.

Lots of science fiction & cyberpunk feels overly focused on outliers & loners & people outside the system, so leaving them off to the side briefly is a nice change of pace.

Sorry, Chipmazing.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:39 PM on July 16, 2010

I liked this. It's refreshing view of all the utopias of reputation based economies that I've read before.
posted by Hactar at 12:57 PM on July 16, 2010

A lot of the ideas in this really stuck with me.

I'd love to see it made trivially easy to contribute little bits of value to society when you just happen to be in the right place and time with the right abilities. Dozens of situations that I could easily help with drift around me every day, but I'm either unaware of their existence or don't know if it's my place to do something.

I bet an actual social network based rating would be a lot more stable than the one described in the story, though I can see why such a precarious one makes for a more interesting story. Most people's ratings would be grounded by a large pool of once-met or occasional acquaintances — the people you were nice to as you went about your day and the strangers you helped out — which, while having small influences individually, would collectively give you a minimum "okay person" level.
posted by lucidium at 1:07 PM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is the world people who make money would like you to achieve so that they don't have to pay you anything.
posted by mobunited at 1:24 PM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, I think I would be a banker in that particular economy. Perhaps this is because I am often contrary or simply odd, but that kind of world would make my skin crawl. Disengagement is not an option. Forever in one anothers' hip pockets. Truth becomes subservient to popularity. Passing judgment on others as a means of economic flow would, in the name of self-interest, not make your reputation into your Whuffie-substitute, but make the very fabric of your personal associations into your currency. Genuine friendship is rare enough in the world to actively set it on fire because you can't deal with the filthy lucre.
posted by adipocere at 1:26 PM on July 16, 2010

At the risk of tedious repetition:

And Then There Were None (1951) [full text here], is a SF novella by Eric Frank Russell, later expanded into the novel The Great Explosion.

Four hundred years after cheap FTL travel allowed every every discontented group of like-thinking individuals to colonize a planet of their own, an Earth spaceship visits a society of (more or less) anarcho-syndicalists, who:

a) revere Gandhi and practice civil disobedience daily.
b) have no government, military, or police.
c) use no money.

Theirs is a real-world small-town-America version (this was the early 1950s after-all) of a gift-and-reputation-based economy, through the process they refer to as planting and killing obs (obligations).

Russell explores how it works in great detail, including farms, restaurants, transportation, fire departments, crime . . .

Previously on Metafilter:
How do we end up in a world without money?
Anarchism and Science Fiction: A Reading List
posted by Herodios at 1:44 PM on July 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Not really believable. If current social networks are anything to go by she should have gotten dozens, if not hundreds, of positive comments for going off on the banker.
posted by sotonohito at 1:54 PM on July 16, 2010

non-public citizens, we work, we go home, and what we do there doesn't reflect on our income, unless it's brought into the sphere of work

Yet so many people with successful marriages, careers and so on are highly integrated into the community and work life. Partcipation in Knights of Columbus, Rotary, the Masons, etc can be personally and also professionally rewarding. Join the PTA, go to church get married and watch how as your social status improves becomes more meaningful.
posted by humanfont at 7:49 PM on July 16, 2010

This is fascinating to me; I just spent my evening reading about five different stories in that Shareable Futures fiction series and enjoying the hell out of them.

It makes me think about what more could potentially come of those little impromptu moments of social interaction someday. Like last night, for instance, when I was stuck in a line for valet parking (long story; I don't usually do valet, but I happened to be that night), and cars kept trying to turn left out of a tiny alley into a tiny lane of traffic going the opposite direction that I was. People kept underestimating the width of that lane, though, and hesitating halfway into the turn, for fear of nicking the car in front of me—and that hesitation was stalling traffic for blocks all around. I was watching this happen, then seeing self-interested drivers in my lane attempt to peel around the rest of us and nearly collide head-on with buses, etc. So I began basically directing traffic from my car, waving people forward from the alley and sort of coaching them through that little left turn. I did this with almost half a dozen people before the line moved far enough forward that it was my car they were afraid of nicking.

In any case, imagine a future in which that tiny act would gain me "influence." Or in which the very need for that act would be alleviated by on-demand, in-glasses parking- and wait-time stats. Our current use of Twitter and Facebook to enable a sort of social proprioception is just the tip of the iceberg.
posted by limeonaire at 8:16 PM on July 16, 2010

Not really believable. If current social networks are anything to go by she should have gotten dozens, if not hundreds, of positive comments for going off on the banker.

You know, I've noticed "consensus storms" like this already occurring in fields such as the media that are highly reputation-based. There's a very strong compulsion not to rock the boat, to collaborate only in socially acceptable ways, to not challenge those whose "rating" is higher, lest ye be smacked down and see your own ethos plummet. To value tact and the means of establishing "legitimacy" above speaking one's mind and expounding one's personal highest truth, and reject and/or back away from anyone who's saying "crazy" things outside of established norms. The mechanisms are the same now as they are in the future time frame of this story—accusations of bias; distancing; disassociation; implications that the writer or speaker of unpopular ideas is "unprofessional" or getting "too personal" in challenging or flouting established norms.

posted by limeonaire at 8:27 PM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

And of course, it's interesting to watch what happens when consensus storms fail to have the predicted effect... The Tea Party is one entity that seems to have (astoundingly) weathered a series of initial negative consensus storms to nonetheless ultimately be treated by many other entities as something approaching legitimate.
posted by limeonaire at 8:27 AM on July 17, 2010

I'll also observe that other than the automated and exact nature of the reputation drop the protagonist received this looks remarkably similar to what goes on with business networking right now. It isn't as quantified, but in management circles especially go off on the wrong person at a party and you'll find your career suddenly goes into freefall.

I find that part of the shareable future to be quite mundane really.
posted by sotonohito at 9:01 PM on July 17, 2010

A different vision of the future: Or We Will All Hang Separately
posted by homunculus at 10:53 PM on August 4, 2010

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