Trading Representation for Equality

Originally published January 29th, 2015, at Sweet Talk.

I would be unsurprised within my lifetime to see Facebook, Google, and other such organizations formalize their positions as pseudo-states, replete with diplomats and domestic and foreign policies. As I was meditating on this, the question of representation arose, or rather, it’s complete absence except to the extent that the organizations deign to give it lip service.

This is a structural feature (bug?) of social media that results from optimizing for equality of experience: Mark Zuckerberg does not see a radically different Facebook than I. Cloud services are technologies that are least amenable to having alternatives for the very rich that are both bespoke and best-of-class. The economies of scale are too large, and so even the billionaires submit to a user experience near-identical, in principle, to the hoi polloi.

Two questions come out of this. First, to what extent is the absence of real representation necessary? Is the uniformity of experience due to the centralization of control in the service of scalability inherently incompatible with the desires of groups and individuals to craft social mediations in line with own desires and values? And if this is a zero-sum game, what would a social media project that emphasized representation at the expense of equality produce?

I won’t attempt to answer either question yet. I will, however say, that the movement towards protocols over products is an improvement, in that, while the lingua franca protocols will prove to be more commonly utilized, they do not negate alternatives that supplement or supplant them. The world of semi-overlapping social currencies explored in Eclipse Phase gives expression to one vision of this dynamic.