A book by Jaron Lanier on “Who Owns Our Future”

Every ten years or so, we will witness a new technology that impacts our lives. There was electricity, computer, digital media, Internet, and social media (we are still living this). But at times, these innovations also create unexpected consequences to our society. Previously, I had written about problems faced by peer producers creating and sharing software for free.  And I also wrote about how a better division of wealth between corporate IP owners and free sharing content creators could result in a more sustainable production eco-system. I have no idea how this balance could be achieved among monolithic organization; but Lanier, in this book, discussed some fruits for thought.

In a nutshell, Lanier argued that (as many researchers in media studies and games already did) that social media are really informative and enjoyable due in part to free giving content creators. But companies are currently appropriating these user created content for their own profits–due in part to the ways copyright laws are historically formulated. What we need is a system in which “nanopayments” could be paid to content contributors, so as a achieve a fairer division of wealth within, an effectively, a new production eco-system. (I admit that I am missing key points where Lanier discussed wealth as being increasingly centralized by a few companies at the detriment of the middle class. And that nanopayments can help enrich the middle class. I felt that these are more speculative and may be something to be left to the backburner.)

While Lanier did not discuss how nanopayment systems could be designed, I felt that the degree which the problems Lanier mentioned are real and urgent is a strong justification for some slacks in his proposal. This is afterall a starting point for stakeholders (us) to consider if the way we are dividing wealth among Internet participants is flawed, and if so, what should we do about it?  Overall, a very thought provoking read.