Philip Sheldrake

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Tag: data-as-labour

The interpersonal data at the heart of all human digital systems, including markets

The ecosystem of a coral reef

In light of the Radical Markets book chapter entitled Data as Labor, its co-author Glen Weyl invited me to write this post for the RadicalxChange blog, published 9 Feb 2019.


The RadicalxChange mission dedicates the community to “using dramatically expanded competitive, free and open market mechanisms to reduce inequality, build widely-shared prosperity, heal global political divides and build a richer and more cooperative social life.”

Our values are aligned and our purpose very similar, but I will describe here some important considerations in designing for personal data that may not yet have received attention by the RadicalXChange community.

Co-operating is essential

It is, I think, critical to outline the emphasis I adopt here in framing the problem and the opportunity. Whereas the RadicalxChange mission aims to have competition lead to greater co-operation, I treat competition and co-operation here as equal and concurrent. Here are two quotes by way of explanation.

The brilliant and indomitable biologist Lynn Margulis discovered that:

The view of evolution as a chronic bloody competition among individuals and species, a popular distortion of Darwin’s notion of “survival of the fittest,” dissolves before a new view of continual cooperation, strong interaction, and mutual dependence among life forms. Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.

And the progenitor of the invisible hand himself, Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations, actually considered his Theory of Moral Sentiments to be the superior work. It is, as Gintis et al write, the perfect counterbalance.

Effective policies are those that support socially valued outcomes not only by harnessing selfish motives [Wealth of Nations / competition] to socially valued ends, but also by evoking, cultivating, and empowering public-spirited motives [Theory of Moral Sentiments / co-operation].

I had such a blend in mind a few years ago when I had a stab at defining the meaning of business beyond the outworn credo of shareholder value and the Newtonian simplicity of customer-centricity; that is, to establish and drive mutual value creation. Competitive and co-operative.
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The misleading name, metaphor defiance, and awesome potential of “personal data” — part 2 of 3

In the preceding post I proposed that reframing personal data as interpersonal data is much more appropriate, more useful, more valuable. I also asserted that data is data — i.e. not like anything else. To support these points, this post explores and dismisses the dominant conceptualisation of personal data as property, and then reviews the less well-known data-as-labour framing.

The problem of the way we frame the opportunity and problem

Data-as-property

Let's linger a while on markets and the fundamental components of money and property. I'm working on the supposition that cryptonetworking may be integral to a future interpersonal data architecture, and given that Bitcoin is the genesis of cryptonetworking, it's doubly instructive to reflect on money.

Money is attributed value, but value is far deeper and broader than the mere monetary sense — in the money can't buy you love sense for example. Nevertheless, our current civilization is monotheistic in its veneration of the market, and our first inclinations when grappling with any shiny new idea is to see if we can't quantify its value and subject it to the manipulations of Adam Smith's invisible hand. Despite quite substantial evidence to the contrary, our idolatry of this mechanism truly marks it out as a religion imho.

Sometimes free markets work best. Sometimes well-regulated markets work best. Sometimes, markets don't work best.
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