hyperlocalians (or how to make journalism pay)

I wrote the following lines back in January of this year:

In truth, what we became was the second Industrial Revolution.  Instead of mining coal, iron ore, slate and diamonds, the Facebooks and Googles and Twitters et al mined what they managed to convert into our freely available and plentiful thoughts, using relatively simple and cleverly repeated programming strategies along the insatiable way.

The grand achievement of the Industrial Revolution of the 21st century has been to turn human beings – in an ever-growing and significant minority – into natural resources to be exploited and maximised for the benefit of those who still conserve some dignified relationship with work.

As the minority slowly becomes a majority, we shall see whether this will remain a sustainable state of affairs.  Whilst people like myself have laboured under the foolish and confused state of mind that no one paid us for what we did because what we did wasn’t worth paying for, people, institutions, finally very large concentrations of wealth, which have known all along far better than we ever did, have taken all those ideas, have created firehoses and algorithmic streams whose intelligence – whilst no longer the work of any individual author, and thus becoming free of all copyright, payment and intellectual recognition – nevertheless still requires the billions of authors to continue contributing without financial compensation.

Also:

It’s amazing how the our virtual 21st century ecosystem has become, essentially, a capitalism which exploits a millionfold more than Victorian times ever did.  And yet few people who are exploited seem to see it as exploitation.  They say: “Social networks?  Hey!  That’s fun.”  And if you say to them: “You know, whilst you’re not making ends meet, someone in Silicon Valley’s turning a helluva business on what you do when you look at your smartphone!”

To conclude:

Isn’t this all a case of colonialism squared?  Only, instead of geographic and racial, it’s become virtual and mental.

But the ethnocentricity, the self-centred commerce, the egotistical carelessness … even the cruelty that comes out of thoughtless acts which start out in one type of place – and end up condemning real lives to heartless despair in quite another …

These are the real implications of this very 21st century destruction of all of the natural resources alluded to.

Shortly after writing these words, I created a project called chester.website, where (I think) I was stumbling to create a sustainable relationship between intellect and reward.

After seven months of slog, I realised I’d not got the skills to generate the engagement and sense of belonging which I needed others to feel for the project in question to take off properly and function.

But I haven’t given up on the idea of avoiding the mistakes of the blogosphere’s past decade; of social networks; and of Web 2.0’s ultimately sneaky pulling of the wool over our collaborative eyes.

It seems to me that within the hyperlocal environments that have sprung up around the country over the past few years we are resolving many of the issues that currently face the sector of local news.

Maybe, longer-term, national and global news too.

One issue which is creating considerable tension however – I’ve seen it in others on Facebook and elsewhere, in particular in the comments that committed individuals working in hyperlocal leave every so often for us to read – is that which occupied me in my January piece quoted from above: the dignified, sustainable and just relationship between a good day’s work and a good day’s pay.

That people who work – I resist the term “professionals”, as it tends to imply a certain kind of worker and I certainly don’t mean to restrict the categories here at all – should in a world of plenty be receiving plenty less than they used to, or perhaps nothing at all, makes me wonder if there can’t be a better way to reconceptualise everything.

Even within Web 2.0 and social networks the idea of reward for work is not ignored: when you post a photo people like, you get temporary notoriety (oh, all right! Call it fame …) as the “likes” and positive comments flood in.  So the nexus of doing and getting something in exchange holds up – forms, in fact, the whole foundation of social media as all of us know it.

What’s broken, though, at least to my mind, is the convertibility of the reward generally assigned us.  What’s broken is the ability to do something useful for ourselves with those “likes” and comments, which isn’t simply – little more than – a square root of narcissism.  Was it Newton who argued energy not only couldn’t be destroyed but could also be moved from one form to another?  Well, Zuckerberg has destroyed that sequence of laws and beliefs.  In early 21st century Web 2.0 as it has become, “likes” and verbal love remain congealed in a personally useless aspic.  The energy of the Facebooks of the world is deliberately stuck in virtual craws.

This is clearly not healthy.  So I wonder: how best to deal with the situation?

As I continue to argue, there’s always a better way.  Whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, there’s always, without exception, going to be a wiser direction towards the future.  The question is really whether we are able to lift our heads above the walls they have built around us, and see the green grass beyond which is waiting to be rolled in.

The key here, in this particular case, is convertibility.  Money has lost its utility in Web 2.0, because what we do – the reward we get –  has had money as its currency gouged out of it.  The only people who get money from Web 2.0 are the tech orgs which run it for their benefit.

The alternative, then, has to be time (it is, in any case, all that they’ve left us).  At the moment, as I pointed out above, our time is being mined just as coal – once – was mined and delivered to colonialists who reserved the right to rip resource out of virgin land.

But what if we turn our Web 2.0 time into the convertible substitute that money historically has operated as – the convertible substitute we need in order that intellect may continue to earn us a living wage?

Time banks you believe I mean?  Not exactly.  Or, at least, not as we know them.

Time banks are general repositories: they’ve always seemed rather cold to me; anyone and everyone can participate, in theory – they then, as a result, lose particular focus.

No.  I’d be suggesting something rather more tied into one particular sector.  Hyperlocal media and communication hubs, to be precise.

Less, minutes and seconds for all and sundry.  More, “hyperlocalians” to pay our journalists.

The question being: how can we make work pay for journalists, contributors and authors in the future?  How can we turn thoughts and ideas no one currently values or filters into the stuff that dignified lives of remunerated souls are made of?

This is my challenge for this autumn and into 2016.  To make journalism pay.

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