“hybrid” economy: socialism, web tools, and the end of bullshit commerce

I loved watching Lawrence Lessig on the Colbert Report, he was so articulate and impatient for things to make sense after so much stupidity. I liked his idea of the hybrid economy — “read/write culture” and commercial culture in a symbiotic relationship, and wanted more. I have yet to receive the book, so I don’t know where he goes with the “hybrid economy” idea. But, I want the tools of this read/write culture to be connected not just to commercial culture, but to the rest of the economy, so they don’t go away in the tsunami that’s sweeping away a great deal of the economy right now (man, I can only pray for the New York Times).

I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that anything valuable to someone can be better if people have better information and more relationships to the people who make their living from it. If I work for, buy from, live around, or share a town with the workers in any industry, small company, or even just a gas station, that situation is better with more transparency, communication, and relationships between the people than what we have today.

A pharmaceutical company should be giving unmoderated web tools to patients who are dealing with a disease, so they can connect to each other and negotiate the completely dysfunctional health care system we have. A car company should design and build cars with the public, through open beta car designs, candid information about what the strengths and weaknesses of the company are, and total access to decisions executives make. Even the gas station should be posting the information it gets from its contacts about why the price is what it is, and what to expect next week. Government should be making the millions of decisions and policies it produces an ongoing, distributed dialogue with citizens, where the strong local opinions and experiences get rolled-up into the scorecards for massive programs.

Free-flow of information makes the people who have to buy things more powerful, and it makes those who want to sell something make better things. And it makes it much easier to see exploitation, avarice, and abuse. Ultimately, that’s good stuff for everyone who shares a city, or a town, or a street. The wonderful sites that form the bases for these tools (WordPress, Wikipedia, Facebook, Digg, Youtube, etc.) should be right in the middle of these real human needs, not just off to the side for entertainment (also, I don’t know how they’ll survive otherwise).

And the nice thing about all of this is that it’s actually less money than what companies flush down the toilet today, in a process known as marketing. There’s just not that much point in a game of using media to associate good feelings with a product when everyone can find out much more about it directly from real people. “Brand” is just not as valuable either; the products are it. Enough with the promises that a company is part of your family or people “love” a brand. It’s corrosive and wrong to try to hijack our actual, human experiences and feelings to sell products. We don’t have to do that anymore.

We do all have to make a living, pay for food, hopefully do work that’s valuable to someone. There’s nothing inherently sleazy in that, it’s just practicality. These social web tools can make work, products, and business more honest and open. More socialist, in fact, and I am very comfortable with that.

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