the next middle class

Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget, wrote:

“The people who are perhaps the most screwed by open culture are the middle classes of intellectual and cultural creation.  The freelance studio musician, the stringer selling reports to newspapers from warzones are both crucial contributors to culture. Each pays dues and devotes years to honing a craft. They used to live off the trickle down effects of the old system, and like the middle class at large, they are precious. They get nothing from the new system.”

In Heads You Win … (2010) I asked; if you are not one of the recognized leaders in your field, can you make a living online or are you just part of the long tail, valuable only to aggregators and their advertising revenues? As a content creator are you providing the fodder that lets Google, Facebook and YouTube earn huge market valuations? Will there be a middle class in the network creative economy, or only heads & tails?

I think it will be possible to make a living in this digital economy and have what used to be a middle class life style but it will not be like the old middle class. First of all, it will be jobless, as described by Rob Paterson, in You don’t need a Job. It will also have to be creative, in that you will have to create your own way of making a living. There will be few jobs to fill, instead there will be opportunities you will have to see. Finally, we will realize that the only way to survive will be by working together in communities of practice and interest, and understanding networks. “We” can take on the faceless “them”, if we work together and share.

We are seeing experiments in new forms of work all over the place. These range from co-working spaces, to shareable communities, to our non-traditional consultancy, Internet Time Alliance, which is still a work in progress. The trickle-down effects, that Lanier mentions, no longer share enough wealth for a viable middle class. We need to create our own network effects, but (this is important) it has to be within our own networks, not inside someone else’s walled garden. Google Ads or Facebook likes will not help you take control of your work destiny. We have to do it together, using new frameworks and models for the network era. The BIG kicker, is that there is no template or rule book. We have to embrace life in perpetual Beta and get started. The good news is that there are many others like us. Let’s write the new rules together.


5 Responses to “the next middle class”

  1. Marcia Conner

    The hardest part in all of this is realizing we can’t get out of this mess using the hierarchical then mechanistic thinking of the industrial age (and earlier) that got us into this mess. The middle-class historically was the people in town, not living in or working the countryside. It’s perhaps back in that countryside where we need to look for a different approaches.

    Yes, “We have to do it together, using new frameworks and models for the network era.” It’s just problematic when so many people think of networks, they think of social nets rather than spider webs and ant hills, bee hives and forests.

    My hope is that as we face these challenges, together, we don’t divert our attention because there are no templates or rule book (oh, so mechanistic). Rather we look at the incredible inspiration, models, and dare-I-say-frameworks in your own back yards.


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