Tag - GoT

We Are All Vassals and Peasants Now (2)

Another dispatch from the Feudal Future

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

Late last spring, as I was reveling in the final episodes of Season 4 of Game of Thrones (and re-watching seasons 1 thru 3 in between), I found myself pondering just why such a show, with it’s rather graphic and brutal portrayals of a medieva realm – with its feudal social, political, and economic structures – would find such a large audience in this day and age.

It seemed particularly perplexing since “this day and age” is defined largely by the emerging digital economy of the internet, mobile devices, and apps.

When the Internet first surfaced in the late 90s, it seemed to hold this great promise of a technologically induced egalitarian culture. Now it’s all about the “sharing economy” – in which we all share our resources with one another, and the ultimate wealth creation flows upwards.

Rather than an egalitarian culture of fairly distributed wealth and influence, the new reality seems much closer to the feudal constructs of the middle ages; Instead of a digitally induced restoration of egalitarian democracy, it seems the new reality works much more like a feudal oligarchy.

As much as I’d like the notion to be a bit of a stretch, others seem to be picking up on the idea, as in this piece that appeared recently in The Guardian:

…with the examples above, everyone profits from your work, except you. If you’ve contributed for years to Wikipedia you must now accept a new political economy: you have permanent lower-caste status, and have simply been working hard for other people to get rich…

…In short, you’ve been a mug.

And this seems to be the common thread. Strip away the language of “sharing” and “community” and you’ve got an economy that requires an endless supply of mug punters.

The author of this piece, Andrew Orlowski, echoes the sentiments expressed by Jaron Lanier:

Getting an “internet economy” that benefits the people who do the work, take the risk, or provide the resources – and gives us a modicum of self-respect – should be a start. Our media, MPs and policy wonks are still off dreaming of Unicorns, though. Maybe we need a new lot entirely.

Given the political realities of the day, I’m not holding my breath waiting for anything of that magnitude to happen. In the meantime, [tweetable alt=””]at least we have a plausible explanation for our fascination with “Game of Thrones.” #GOT[/tweetable]

We Are All Vassals and Peasants Now

I posted that (the subject header) to as a rather random, off-the-cuff comment to a Facebook thread started by my friend Craig Havighurst in response to his posting of the most recent screed from yet another singer-songwhiner about how the Internet is making paupers of his particular profession.

In the comments, I said,

I just re-read that headline, “…Songwriters Are Getting Screwed…” Well, excuse me, but why do songwriters think they’re some uniquely aggrieved class? We are ALL getting screwed, if learning to cope with a New Reality is your definition of getting screwed. And by “all,” I mean all of us, for example, who supply content – as we are doing right here – for the digital oligarchs. We are supplying the content and Facebook is getting the money. How is that not also getting “screwed?” Oh, this should be fun…

And then I realized that my comments were in fact stimulated by something I’d just read (heard, really, since I’m listening to the audiobook) in Jaron Lanier’s book, “Who Owns The Future” (which, credit where it is due, I am reading in part because Craig mentioned it to me last week):

The information economy that we are currently building doesn’t really embrace capitalism, but rather a new form of feudalism.

Full stop.

That would seem to explain a lot of things going on in my own life right now: from this obsession with medieval ruins to my devotion over the past couple of months to all things “Game of Thrones.”

It has been said often that when contemporary popular culture sets out to portray other periods in history, the narrative conveyed is more about the period in which the content is created and consumed than it is about the period being portrayed.

If that’s the case, then what on earth does a brutal, medieval fantasy like “Game of Thrones” tell us about the (evolving) digital world we’re living in now?

Could it be anything as simple as: “The new world is not a capitalist democracy, like we’re led to believe in our daily media/news stream; it’s a feudal oligarchy, in which we are all vassals and peasants.”

Consider: we all create content on a regular, fast and furious basis for sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr.” But as Lanier opines, all the value that is created in these enterprises rises to the owners of the “siren servers.”

How is this not like peasants working the land for Starks or the Lannisters? The nobles own the land, and we toil in the fields to create the wealth that maintains their estates, and they in turn promise to protect us by continuing to provide the service.

At the risk of violating every copyright law known to man and The Seven Gods (to say nothing of the God of Light…), I have taken the liberty of purloining an entire chapter from Jaron Lanier’s book to illustrate the point. Follow this link to read the chapter, which imagines what the End License User Agreement (EULA) might be like for a child opening a lemonade stand with “Streetbook” – an road-operating company that sounds a lot like an app store.

Follow the link, listen to the reasoning, and then tell me if this doesn’t sound downright “feudal”…

If Life Gives You EULAs, Make Lemonade

Funny to look back on it now, but I think Monty Python knew what was coming like 40 years ago…