Monday, January 25, 2016

The Zero Marginal Cost Society (Liveblogged Review)

Hey, so a while back, I tried doing a liveblog of this book I had to read for school (and I actually really enjoyed it). It first went live on Dayre (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here), and I thought I'd share it here as well. 

The premise is pretty fascinating. It's arguing that as the collaborative commons rise, capitalism will play a smaller, more streamlined role in the economy.

Makes sense when you think of how we're used to sharing things we make for free (like on Dayre) and using things for free or near free.

While the capitalist market is based on self-interest and driven by material gain, the social Commons is motivated by collaborative interests and driven by a deep desire to connect with others and share.

Chapter 1: Chapter 1 introduces the basic concepts of the book and provides definitions (always good, except now I have yet another definition of IoT (Internet of Things) that I have to work in).

What was new to me was the idea of IoT as the 'soulmate' of the Collaborative Commons. I've been thinking about it in terms of supply chains and productivity, but it does make sense, especially if you're considering it in a broader sense.

While capitalism operates through the free market, free markets don't require capitalism.

Chapters 2,3,4: These 3 chapters are a summary of economic history, and probably a way for the author to reframe our thinking so we're more receptive to his ideas (is that too cynical?)

But basically, the premise is that with the industrial revolutions, we moved towards vertical integration with a central command, but with IoT and the Collaborative Commons (CC), we're moving towards everything integrated but decentralised.

Which begs the question: why are the main movers big companies?

Saw the "study online for almost free" meme. But Coursera does charge for a certified accreditation thing, and that isn't 'nearly free'. So unless employers are willing to accept the free certificates of achievement, MOOCs won't help people who don't have the money to go to university

How then do we ensure an open, transparent flow of data that can benefit everyone while guaranteeing that information concerning every aspect of one's life is not used without their permission and against their wishes in ways that compromise and harm their well-being?

Chapter 5 is about productivity, IoT and free energy. For the energy thing, which was new to me, the author says that renewable energy is the near-free energy, after you recoup the installation (and I suppose switching) costs.

It is true about fossil energies being finite and hence unable to go to free, but I think they do have a role to play in the near future, as we transition. Hence the role of microgrids and virtual power plants.

Smart energy isn't just where the energy comes from, it's also how we manage it. I suspect the IoT/big data methods will apply for all forms of energy - we need to figure out how to adjust supply flexibly and how to predict demand. And of course, on the industrial side, how to use IoT technologies to be more energy efficient.

Chapter 6: 3D printing!! It's something I knew about, but this is the first time that I really see its future tied to the IoT/CC movement. Extremely interesting stuff.

But the author seems to call this movement the Third Industrial Revolution, while in Germany, this is the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Yet another contradiction for my research partners and me...

But I think the concept of moving from mass production to production by the masses is cool. Didn't know Gandhi said something similar:

Knowledge has been enclosed behind the walls of academic institutions whose price of admission excludes all but the wealthiest. That's about to change.

Chapter 7 is about MOOCs and other forms of education. Basically, MOOCs will bring the cost of good education down, and in general, education will become more multidisciplinary and less focuses on rote memorisation.

I mentioned the cost of MOOCs before, but the book is right in saying that it's near free compared to its traditional price. But it may still be expensive and out of reach to the very poor or those with no PayPal or credit cards.

As for the learning style, I love the idea of multidisciplinary themes as the basis of education, but I still feel that for the basics, like the multiplication tables, memorisation is key. Like yes, I can work out multiplication if I needed to, but it's faster to have, say, the times table or Pythagoras theorem memorised, especially when I'm integrating the skill with others.

What I'm saying is that you don't have to memorise stuff, but it might be more convenient to do so.

Chapter 8,9: chapter 8 is about the worker becoming obsolete, while chapter 9 is about the rise of the prosumer, a consumer who also producers. Both are very interesting ideas, although it feels rather America-centric. I'd be interested in seeing how much of what the author is saying is applicable in developing countries (especially the unemployment stuff).

Chapters 10,11,12: These three chapters are grouped together under the section "The Rise of the Collaborative Commons". I think it's a testament to how powerful 'The Tragedy of the Commons' is as an idea that its refutations aren't as well known as the Tragedy is. The chapters also cover topics from Net Neutrality to Copyright and open source/free software.

Do you know that apparently Singapore has the highest rate of illegal downloads (from a 2012 study - looked it up cause my Senpai is doing something similar for his graduation thesis)? So yeah, the copyright thing has me torn.

Like, I totally understand the appeal of getting something for free. But now that I'm about to self-pub, I'm like "RIGHTS RIGHTS RIGHTS". I mean, I probably won't be an overnight sensation, but if I am, I want my rights to help me earn money.

But at the same time, I love the idea of anyone being able to read my words. (Actually I've been considering this problem for some time, along with pricing issues.)

The other interesting idea was designating companies like Google and Facebook and Amazon as 'social utilities'. This is an argument I don't really buy, especially when you start thinking about how much data about us these companies already hold. Plus, they seem giants now, but giants can fall.

Starting on the fourth part, which would be chapters 13 and 14, and saw this very interesting quote redefining freedom. The first past is "The Internet Generation, however, has come to think of freedom not in the negative sense - the right to exclude others - but rather in the positive sense of the right to include others"

Then some elaboration, and then the quote that struck me:

Freedom is measured more by access to others in networks than ownership of property in markets. The deeper and more inclusive one's relationships, the more freedom one enjoys.

Chapter 13, 14: These two chapters make up the section "Social Capital and the Sharing Economy". It might be the most interesting part of the book for me (since IoT disappeared after the first chapter) as it looks at how people are changing the way they share and consume.

I'm not involved in the sharing community, but it sounds really interesting. And I wish that the second chapter, which covers crowdfunding, was a little longer. Actually, I wish both chapters were longer

[...non-book related stuff...]

So I finished the last two chapters. For some reason, they feel like any other book that pushes a new type of thinking/paradigm. That is, it feels very hopeful and like the author has expanded beyond the IoT and econs stuff at the start to talk about an 'economy of abundance'

Or maybe my skepticism is due to the fact that the last two chapters reject the principle scarcity, which is pretty much the first thing that any econs student learns, so it's pretty ingrained in me.

All in all, this is a really good books. It's very thought provoking, and I find it easy to believe/accept a lot of what the author is saying. I do wish there was more emphasis on the IoT side of things, but I think that would be a bit too esoteric for most people, and the Collaborative Commons stuff is the more accessible topic.

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