Re-capturing creativity and autonomy in ‘the memetic economy’

Posted on: February 28, 2011

This video features Yochai Benkler discussing his incredibly important work on ‘the memetic economy.’ Key points:

The ‘memetic economy’ is an emerging technological-economic condition – a new stage of  ‘the information economy’ whose two defining characteristics are:

  • An increased role for non-market production
  • Radically decentralised production of information

A meme in this sense is a unit of cultural transmission: covering all information, knowledge, culture. The memetic economy indicates the production of cultural units shifting to individuals – replicating more closely the diverse mechanisms in society more generally – reversing the control focus of the industrial information economy.

In the industrial information economy people have been constrained to consuming products from managerially determined, heavily advertised finished goods – but it is highly valuble to democracy, autonomy and social justice for individuals acting outside markets to determine information relevance and drive cultural content and wider production.

The emerging techno-economic situation where substantial components of information production is owned by end-users means productivity can be sustained with non-proprietary and non-market production – leading to radical decentralised information production, and intelligence at the edges of a network whose core is relatively quite stupid.

Efficiency of non-market production does vary from industry to industry, but in addition to non-market production, market-based indirect appropriation of revenue not reliant on information as property is also possible (e.g. the Spotify Freemium model).

It is of great social value for individuals to participate in direct discourse instead of relying on proxies for political conversation, and centralised and commercialised control structures determining what information they see. The ‘memetic economy’ means the opportunity for a radical shift in the extent to which people can participate in forming the cultural meaning of their society through talking to eachother.

There is / will be a battle over the institutional ecology of information (the giants of the industrial age will not go quietly) but it would be disastorous to allow the winners of yesterday’s economy to dictate the terms of tomorrow’s.

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