Snowcrashing Into The Diamond Age 2 (Part Two): An Essay By Extropia DaSilva

Extropia DaSilva photographed by Shoshana EpsilonIt’s time to give voice to Extropia DaSilva again — and she’s back with an earlier topic, which she has expanded quite neatly on this latest essay of hers. Enjoy! — Gwyn

IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID.

The ability to replicate the means of production themselves from cheaply available elements is what underlies most of the utopian expectations of a society with molecular nanotechnology. One commentator on an online forum asked ‘why the hell would anyone pay for something nano makes with no effort?’. Second Life, though, suggests such an argument holds no water. After all, this is a world whose content is built from resources instantly available wherever you happen to be at negligible cost, and which can be duplicated with no effort. But most reporting on Second Life does not describe a world where products are given away free. Instead, it’s all about the money. ‘Non-existant’ objects being bought and sold for real cash, land barons earning fortunes from virtual property. Also, Gwyneth Llewelyn wrote about the socio-political beliefs that SL residents subscribe to (‘Anarcho-syndicalists’, ‘Anarcho-capitalists’, ‘libertarian/neoliberalists’). Of these groups, only the first ‘idealise a SL where money, land and prim limits are unnecessary’. I don’t know how many residents consider themselves to be anarcho-syndicalists, but common sense dictates that the group believing money is unnecessary are in a minority compared to the many groups who consider it necessary, for the simple reason that the latter are many and the former is one.

Still, it is by no means uncommon to see a reporter expressing surprise that SL has virtual goods trading hands for real money. But the fact that SL’s content has monetary value is not all that suprising when one considers the entire system that supports the likes of Aimee Weber or Fallingwater Celladore. The ability to produce copies of virtual goods does happen automatically with little human intervention, but it’s only automated at one point in the manufacturing process. The design of the goods requires a concentration of effort, promoting the company and its products requires ongoing work. All of this necessitates the coordination of many tasks, and this activity amounts to a dynamic economy which is an essential element in building an online world compelling enough to sustain the interests of millions for indefinite periods.

Lyle Burkead insisted that it would also be a necessary condition for delivering the fabled machine that produces anything you wish for (provided it is physically possible). We already have many goods that are put together via molecular manufacturing. All foodstuff and timber fall into this category. So, how come oranges are not given away for free? Because, ‘they need fertilizing, watering, protection from insects. Oranges must be picked, put in boxes,  shipped to store… The store has human employees, the fertilizer company has human employees and so on. The orange tree doesn’t exist in some separate space by itself, it’s part of the economy’.

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