There is a nascent economic revolution around “knowledge production.” Knowledge production now accounts for most of the production in developed economies. 80% of the jobs in the United States are service sector. This means that economic production is now mostly about how to manage and build relationships.
Almost every person on the internet produces some kind of art, music, video, photography, spoken or written words. More and more people are making a living in this through crowdfunding and through consulting. But what are the principles that coherently unify knowledge producers on the internet and in other fora? What does it mean to be a knowledge producer?
The industrial revolution was a way of harnessing the power of many individuals to focused ends. It was organized around the division of labor. Each individual had a specialized role, he did a very small, repetitive action that was a part of the whole process. But industrial production was primarily about producing material widgets.
Our era is a kind of inversion of the industrial revolution. Rather than having a specialized role, the knowledge producer attempts to represent the whole process. This does not means there is no specialization, it just means that knowledge producers are not coordinated by specialization, as they were in the industrial revolution. There is not so much of a division of labor, as division of interest.
Knowledge production is about particular interests, but it is about the way that those specific interests capture or relate all of the other nodes in the network to itself. It is about a way of seeing the world. A particular piece of knowledge must be so compelling that it can stand in for all of knowledge. We can suspend belief for a few moments and see the world entirely through this lens.
The technology of our time has revealed that knowledge is so extremely interdependent and interconnected that every action mutually affects every other. The only way to produce knowledge is for its expression to be the whole process, all at once.
What is the whole? This is the problem. The whole is mythical, it exists as an axiom, or a hypothesis. It is completion, finality, symmetry, in a world that is decidedly incomplete, evolving, and processual. We have an instinct for the whole because we are incomplete, just like we have an instinct to eat food when we are hungry.
We know that the knowledge producers cannot give us the whole picture, but we can momentarily buy into their picture of the whole. We are instinctively attracted to the completion and finality of the knowledge producer’s vision, the way it links together all aspects of life. Knowledge producers produce a kind of mythology. They present a way of seeing the world. And this background vision is what unifies knowledge producers.
Industrial production was coordinated around the incentives of monetary exchange. If you worked in your specialized role, you received a certain wage in exchange. By taking on more responsibility, you could move up the hierarchy. You could become a manager who organized the specialized wage-earners.
By contrast, knowledge production is coordinated around the incentives of completion and wholeness. It seems to be primarily individualistic because each person is incentivized to produce knowledge based on their own particular vision. Knowledge producers are not incentivized by monetary exchange alone. They contribute to the ecosystem of knowledge long before it is profitable, because it is for the mutual benefit of everyone. They are incentivized by the instinct for wholeness. The more that they embody the “true” whole, the more social activity is enduringly coordinated around their content. The mythology of the whole leads to coordinated activity which is value creation. Money is added as a side benefit of coordinated activity.
This is why the modern economy is so confused and unsure of where its value is coming from. The macro-level coordination of human activity is a role that is carried out by money currency. But knowledge production is now inherently competing with money currency for this role. Knowledge production is attempting to autonomously coordinate human activity on its own.
This is why valuations of technology companies are so confusing. Technology companies coordinate so much human activity, but it is not immediately obvious why they should be in the business of making money. It seems more like they perform a public service. But when they coordinate enough activity, money is basically added as a side benefit. Their primary role is to coordinate knowledge production.
Is it possible to shift from an macro-level equilibrium of monetary coordination to macro-level equilibrium of pure knowledge production? This would require a mythology and technology of the whole. It would require a mythical technology not instantiated on computers, but instantiated in the real world, in a real world application that guides human motivations.