A piece I need to develop much more; and for which I will have a very hard time indeed finding an outlet...: This is the direction we are headed as we head away from the “commodity economy” toward the "attention economy". We are almost surely not going to get all the way to the end of the road. But toward this is where we are tending. How concretely, has the SARS-COVID-19 plague accelerated this shift?
Well I think this essay is already very fine; if you can truly develop it much more, that will be impressive. If it cannot find an outlet, does that not say something bad about the attention economy?
I am not as confident as Doctorow about humans developing resistance to Facebook, because I don't think that the cases of trolling and product reviews are analogous. We learn, at root, by trial and error; and where is the feedback mechanism that would tell us that in paying attention to Facebook, we have made an error?
Demand creates supply.
We see this as far back as we can see; tool stone travels thousands of miles ten thousand years ago.
There are barriers to creating supply. The most basic is insufficient demand to balance the cost of providing the supply. (No matter how much you want an engagement ring made out of asteroid platinum, you can't generate enough demand -- spend enough money, if we resort to the abstraction -- to create the supply.)
The most common and persistent barrier is the limited minds of capitalists. Whether we point to what happened with country music once sales by genre were counted, the story of M.M. LaFleur's initial venture capital funding, or the widely observed (at least as far back as Jane Jacobs' :Cities and the Wealth of Nations:) that capital concentrations function to prevent innovation, you get supply being limited by _perceived_, rather than actual demand. And it's a narrowly specific set of perceptions.
The internet is a way to manifest the actual demand as money. Kickstarter and Patreon are obvious examples of doing this directly. (So has been a lot of sex work, and the efforts to suppress the demand are instructive about what the system actually does.)
This has three areas of consequence.
One is that the materials science to build _more_ internet or _enough_ internet spreads to the rest of materials science; lasers beget fibre optics beget better lasers and higher purity refining (because the purity of the glass determines your range between repeaters) and the techniques of this apply to all matter. (It's been at least a decade since simple commercial laser mass spectroscopy could tell you what's really evaporating off your sewage pond or going out your smokestack.)
Two is that it's not as simple as disintermediation; it's restructuring along different channels of demand. Some of the channels of demand are new because you didn't used to be able to get that at all, it wasn't possible. (Services providing personalized raunchy video; not really possible until someone invents the VCR, not really practical until you've got ~2010 internet. Small batch zirconium pen bodies; not possible at consumer prices until fifth generation composite cutting tools and post-2000 electrolytic refining. Many other examples; there's more money in video games than movies by increasingly much, there's stuff you can only do with EDM on the market, there's the price collapse of diamond abrasives, it's an extensive list.) The important thing is that the expansion of possibility creates novel demand and thus supply and this iterates. In a world where you have reviews and video and global demand, it iterates very quickly. If you don't understand the actual channels of demand -- there's pretty good evidence Patreon didn't understand their own business model! there's a lot of bafflement going around -- you're in an unstable position. People hate that, and want to make it stable.
Three is that extracting rents from your gatekeeping control of capital is now increasingly difficult. (Yes, people are making insane amounts of money. They're doing it from owning non-optional chunks of the economy, like medicine, housing, and food. If you want to make _toys_, look at what happens to physical game companies who don't understand the channels of demand. Or what happened to Tesla's valuation, if you want to make cars, and then figure out what Tesla's really supplying.) You can -- it's happened! -- figure out both what you can supply and where the real channel of demand is and do well. (Fuji's response to the death of the film camera.) Or your can try to get control of demand.
Facebook's core product is control of demand. They collect enough information to know how much demand there is for any particular thing, and they represent a sufficiently closed environment that they can hijack primate social mechanisms to create demand. It's not aggregation so much as it's hacking the signal that creates supply. (Amazon's core product is control of prices. Google's core product is control of attention. They're meta-companies in industrial commodity manufacturer terms.)
So this is not an attention economy; it's an "adjust to meaningful non-capitalist demand signal" economy. (Look at what happens when Sears gets catalog sales into the black South in the early 20th century. Same thing that's happening now globally happened then in a narrow microcosm.) And a lot of that demand is reliable social connection (pretty much all the mediated communication and mediate social activity run over the net, and thus phones) and a lot more of that demand is identity facilitation (all the fandoms). And because it's diffuse and unorganized, it's difficult to suppress. Though you can see the effort to do so, because it's recreating social order, social power, and expectations of standing.
Pivouvian -> Pigouvian
"Then there is the question of attention vs. utility. I hope—but so far it has been a vain hope—that people will finally develop defenses against the Facebooks of the world, and recognize that those who want to maximize your engagement with their website so that they can sell your eyeballs to advertisers are not your friends. Human gullibility is at its maximum when we are exposed to new and strange things. But when things become familiar, a certain cynicism with respect to those who offer us things that seem too good or too surprising to be true wants to come to the fore. The plague years should help with this process. However, as I said, so far this has been a vain hope."
Don't give up too early. Cory Doctorow has argued that we will adapt to at least partly nullify the advantage of platforms. We are already seeing it e.g. identifying trolls and detecting and calling out fake product reviews.
I would also argue that product reviews can strengthen or weaken brands, and this takes away control of brand messaging. Brands then tried to use "influencers", but their effect is weakening, I think. Many people offering product reviews overwhelms brand PR depts. (Arguably they are far better than Consumer Reports reviews, IMO.)
The coordination of commodities via pricing. A useful, but pretty awful mechanism to reduce the many differences between the supposedly same commodity using price. Subject to so much gaming and cheating ( just test this at various grocery stores selling "commodity" fruit and vegetables). For non-commodities, humans have adapted many other ways to reduce the information content to be transmitted. Think of the 1970s epithet "commercial" applied to music that shouldn't be purchased by your peer group. Politics uses slogans and sound bites. Businesses use "bizspeak" jargon so well parodied by Scott Adams' Dilbert cartoon. As always, Orwell well understood this many decades ago. There must be an almost infinite number of words and phrases that encapsulate essays of content to provide the needed cognitive shortcut, much as prices do for commodities. I think we can assume it is a version of Ashby's law to do this as the world becomes ever more complex.
As for FB, Kim Stanley Robinson has suggested a public version, more like China's WeChat, in his book "The Ministry of the Future". I can only hope that we do this before FB becomes an even more severe pestilence. We seem to be in a race against fascism (in the original Italian sense - a close government-industry structure that excludes personal choice).