The Material Post-Mortem

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: Middle age is the point at which you realize that distance is simply a trick of forced perspective.

The Unholy Consult continues creeping forward. I wish I could say how far I’ve come, but since I don’t write in a linear fashion I really have no metric. I have fifteen chapters started, zero completed.

In the meantime, my brain has decided to plague me with a number of inconsistencies and details that I overlooked in The White-Luck Warrior. It always does this after the final proofs have been sent out. Even though I know that 99.9% of the readers won’t even notice them, they still drive me crazy – enough to resolve, like I always resolve, to never let this happen again, even though it inevitably will. I have this retirement fantasy where I have the time and inclination to rewrite the whole series a la Henry James.

For some reason I find myself cycling in and out of  that if-I-had-a million-dollars mood that I’m sure all of you are familiar with. I keep thinking about Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, and how there is at least a dozen companies just as big lurking in the near future. A number of technologies are set to begin scaling up–whole new industries that will lead to new dominant players and a bunch more shake-and-bake billionaires.

It’s got me thinking about economics, and whether any model exists for the kind of transformative upheavals to come. It seems to me, that the continuous integration of transformative technologies into a given economy will actually do more to undermine equity than otherwise. If I had a million dollars, for instance, I would invest in all the viable startups in, say, the organ replacement domain, knowing full well that whatever losses I suffer on those firms the market weeds out will be more than compensated for by my stake in the inevitable winners to come. But since I don’t have a million dollars, I can only watch from the bleachers–like most everyone else.

I’m wondering, in other words, if periods of rapid and profound technological change  inevitably generate ever greater economic  inequities, and if so, what it means when such change becomes continuous. Since I see capital as our primary way of distributing power, and since I think humans are hardwired to generally confuse their self-interest with the will of God, I’m wondering what the future holds as venture capitalists accumulate more and more power. Has anyone developed a theory of a Venture Economy?

It seems to me that ramping up the rate of technological transformation changes a crucial variable in our understanding of the way markets function. For instance, given that humans have only so much stomach for change (tolerances that were likely fixed in the stone age), could we be entering a period where the changes wrought by innovation will outrun our individual and collective ability to readily adapt. Will the new social divisions turn more and more on our ability to adapt, to embrace the new and dispose of the old? Will our strategies for self-identification (and glorification) evolve so far as to ‘tribalize’ early and late adopters, to turn marketing consumer categories into identifications that supercede things like religion and nationality, giving rise to a new feudalism, like that in Stephenson’s The Diamond Age?

Whatever the material post-modern brings, I can guarantee you we won’t be ready for it…