Sunday, 15 October 2017

#282 Mental Capitalism part 1

About two weeks ago, the term "mental capitalism" popped into my head. I'd been thinking about the strains from which the modern economy suffered and also how our interactions with our networks facilitated the exchange of social currency and similarly mental currency. What then would the term "mental capitalism" mean?

To suggest that our wellbeing had been privatised seemed like a stretch from what I was thinking. It wasn't that I suspected that the world of business had taken control of society's mental health. I was simply considering a kind of free trade, at both the conscious and subconscious levels. A trade in units of our emotional wellbeing, with all those we met. How some might acquire wealth in that currency as others became impoverished. It seemed analogous to capitalism.

I Googled the term. A 71 year-old German polymathic economist named Georg Franck had written a paper bearing the title back in 2005, when he was 59. What's more, he'd stretched to the idea of real world businesses capitalising on our mental bandwidth. I reckoned his paper could be distilled into succinct paraphrases that had the makings of a poem but for now, I opted to sketch out the beginning, which ran along these lines:

Incentives explain the use of advertising in business but do not explain why more recently, publicity appears to have become an end in itself, sometimes to surpass even profit. Advertising is everywhere. Why? Of what is it symptomatic? Mental Capitalism.

Franck made four assertions, which I decided to paraphrase.

1) Traditional experiences occurred in the social realm. Now, much of our experience is online, in an environment which is far more corporate-controlled. The space of experience has been privatised.

2) The breadth of information sources with which the average internet user connects digitally is far greater than the number of sources with which they would have connected thirty years ago. Information providers compete increasingly for consumers' attention rather than just their money.

3) Attention is not a means of payment (we still pay our internet service providers using money) but it does become a currency when it is traded in homogenous units which then circulate.

4) The circulation of attention relies on institutions just as the circulation of money relies on banks and stock exchanges. The institutions that facilitate the circulation of attention are those that make up the mass media.

Franck's paper is available to read here. I'll make this into a two part post while I continue reading it.


Running on empty said...

I would learn from talking to people IRL too, not just by paying (by which I'm guessing he means newspapers, and he forgot free to air TV. )

Dan Copping said...

True, I think that second para is pretty naff, I'll take a look at it.

Running on empty said...

Now naff, that's a British word, don't get that here.