The, Uh, Tension Economy

Much was made, during the dotcom boom, of the Attention Economy. The notion was that attention is more important than profits and the web still looks that way.

Today, Doc has dug deep into Michael Hall’s questioning of Doc’s and other bloggers’ Google-based attention-getting, in I’ve never felt so deconstructed in all my life. Specifically, Hall is distracted by what he sees as Doc’s obsession with his rank on Google. He wonders what it all means and why so many of us are blogging and why should we bother? After all, so little of it matters to anyone else. Here’s me quoting Doc quoting Michael Hall:

“For every useful link or mini-review of a good site, we get dozens of inane shout-outs sent for no better reason than, perhaps, raising one’s linkage so Google will notice, so we can blog about Google noticing.

“What the hell does it all mean? Why do you care? Why do we care? What am I missing? Why don’t I Get It?”

Hall’s hard questions seem to come from the viewpoint that seeking attention is vain, unbecoming, somehow beneath our dignity. I’d turn that around (which is how I seek attention). Suppose, for the moment, that our productive lives are only about getting attention, and the dignified self we think we are is just marketing.

Richard Dawkins is smarter than most of us and understands genetics better than any of us and is a hell of a writer and, really, a philosopher. In The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, he teaches us that there’s a little replicator inside every cell – literally an organic digital ROM which is a collection of genes. Cells manufacture other cells and reproduce their replicator ROM code in each new cell, eventually building a ROM Life Support System called a flatworm or Richard Dawkins or Saddam Hussein. Flatworms and Dawkins’ and Husseins get together with similar, differently plumbed others and put together a new kind of cell with half of the ROM code from each of them. That unique new cell makes other new cells saving its unique combination of the merged ROM. The ROM code dies when the ROM Life Support System dies. Not even a creationist would disagree so far.

Exactly half the ROM code is saved when the replicator collection makes a child and 1/4 of the code will live in a grandchild. The ROM doesn’t know anything – about the cells (millions die and are replaced hourly) – about the ROM Life Support System, about the support system’s environment, or the DJIA or TCP/IP. But the support system (you and me) will learn anything, do anything and fuck anybody to perpetuate half our ROM code. The most successful fuckers crowd out the less successful. Perhaps you’ve noticed this feature.

A replicator is any mechanism that creates very good copies of itself which in turn know the copy creation trick. What’s vital to a replicator is not the copy, but the trick. The copies (you and I) are abundant, cheap, disposable and unimportant except, of course to we the copies. Our purpose is not to be dignified or meaningful but to be copied. We learn things, develop habits and act on them to make copies. Successful lessons, habits and memories of successful actions are RAM code that is carried into future copies. Others wither and vanish.

Dawkins invented the idea of a meme, which is a disembodied replicator with the same traits as a gene – memes are the RAM-based lessons, habits and memories that leap from mind to mind, more or less perfectly. Memes were originally available only to relatives close enough to copy them but the ROM Life Support Systems learned how to send them further and more broadly. Since we care about these ideas, we often care about other people who also carry those ideas, even though they share none of our RAM code. We might even die for people nothing like us.

Whew. Sorry about that, but I don’t have time to make it shorter.

Memes, Memes, Me! Me!

I can’t tell the difference between ROM code and RAM code. If something feels like the right thing to do, I do it, and rarely know exactly why.

I was conflicted about becoming a grandfather, but the moment I held Eddie in my arms, a genetic switch closed and I knew I will do anything to preserve this wonderful spark of life – 25% of my ROM code under the protection of 100% of my ROM/RAM code. Eddie may need my counsel for a while, so I’ll work out and eat pretty well and use a seatbelt, because I’ve caught memes that make me feel like doing those things.

I have no direct proof that any of those ideas will have the desired effect, but I’ll do them anyway.

Docking His Memes

So Doc’s RAM may be as interested in spreading his memes as his ROM is interested in spawning his genes. We parents don’t care whether our gene carriers are pretty or smart or how many toes they have. We just want to give them the best shot we can. You know, the way flatworms and geneticists and Muslims do.

There is no intrinsic meaning to any of these memes, but how we respond to them is important. When I post something that Michael Hall thinks is trivial, it may have meaning for someone else. If not, and my posts get scant attention, I’ll change them so they get more. Bees and ants learn this and so will the authors of the “bite-sized ‘my little dog entries’ “ that bother Michael. Michael and Doc:

“Michael asks, … ‘is its eventual valuelessness the real racket here?’

“I think the answer is mostly yes, in the long run. We don’t homestead here. We rent. None of us owns one cubic molecule of cyberspace.

When Doc gazes in his Google mirror on the wall, he’s seeing his progeny and he’s as proud of them as he is of his son, reeling off the names of constellations. From the culture’s standpoint, they’re the same, experiments that may take root and may not, or might only for a while but be useful for a time.

Michael Hall’s questions are necessary and helpful. His are powerful memes hoping to overcome the weaker but more pervasive memes of vapid ramblings on irrelevant happenings. If his ridicule withers a few of those wastes of our time, then our collective intelligence will have been raised. But if Pop Culture continues its decline into meaninglessness (from Michael Hall’s standpoint), then we will be the most homogenized, lowest common denominator culture in history. His fears are shared by Richard Dawkins, the Eastern Elite and the GOP’s conservative intelligentsia, all of whom know the prole
s have nothing to say.

From its dark nadir of inconsequential text ricocheting among the navel-gazettes of the Land of Blog, our lock-stepping networked culture of uniform mediocrity will have the potential (but not destiny) to energize simultaneously, like the similarly insignificant, lock-stepping photons of a laser, to reach levels of relevance, focus and intensity inconceivable in the old days of a few clever, entitled, published wise men attempting to illuminate the vast proletariat of the unpublished and the unread.

Is Google’s mirror on the wall a physicist’s half-mirror? Like quantum mechanics, evolution’s a crap shoot.

3:41:20 PM    

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