Over coffee last weekend, one of my oldest and best friends expressed optimism over reversing the sell-out of social networking being effected -- already effected -- by Twitter and Facebook.
"At some point people will say enough is enough and demand to be compensated for the use of their information," he said.
His words rang like permission to be optimistic.
It's not in the nature of a corporate business to take on responsibility for social change. To the extent that happens, it's unintended in the specific case, and a byproduct of the nature of capitalism and the freedom that results from the larger arc of economic liberty.
No, I don't expect Twitter would hang on forever to an open-ended, altruistic mission statement (convenient cover when not yet certain of a business model). It would inevitably need to find a business rationale because it is a corporate person.
My disappoint is that the Twitter board gave up on finding a 21st Century business model, one that would finally slay rather than give new life to advertising, a business practice that was efficient and useful in the era of mass and broadcast media but isn't at all designed for the full throttle potential of social media.
Presumably the Twitter directors know their shareholders don't have the patience to build a business that could be truly important, powerful and lasting. If my friend's optimism is foresightful, then someone else will find, invent, or stumble across a way to monetize social media that will send the money the right direction, to the crowdsourced, and eclipse what in the 21st Century can only be called the cynicism of direct marketing to consumers.
What if Jaron Lanier is right and the lords of the cloud prefer people in the subservient position of being disempowered by their own content, nay, disconnected from their own agency and alienated from their own creativity?
If Twitter and Facebook are already "locked in" to a business model predicated on the outdated assumption of inefficiency in access to pertinent information, then users, already captured, might eventually have to "unionize," might have to collectively bargain for their rights as the labor, currently unpaid, on which the lords of the cloud exact tribute.
The going wage might take the form of residuals on the manner in which one's personal information is manipulated and sold. Right now the masses are passive. But if the collective imagination lights up with the thought that a network's users should get a cut of the ad revenue, or better yet, be paid to permit sponsored information to be served to them, there could be a will to strike. Social media users might say, hell no, we're not working for you without pay just so you can organize us into behaving like more obedient consumers.
The path of exploitation we are on could be a short one.