Saturday, January 4, 2014

Things and Connections

Metcalfe's Law states that the value of a communications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected things. That is, as you add more things to a network, the value of the network increases quite a bit faster than you add things. Metcalfe's Law is true.

The value of Things are often dramatically enhanced by metadata. My name has not much value. My name together with a cloud of demographic data and some information about my shopping habits is surprisingly valuable.

A piece of Art without an idea, and without a use (see here for the precise details of the rather specific and perhaps unorthodox way I am using these two words) has little to no value. Add in a good idea and some use and your Art becomes pretty valuable, potentially in terms of money and certainly as a cultural artifact.

There is a common fallacy which is produced by all these things, and many similar and related things. That fallacy is that when some factor, X, adds a great deal of value to Y, whatever you mean by value, then it follows that Y has low value. Especially among people who are in the business of X, there is a strong tendency to overvalue X and undervalue Y. The root of the fallacy lies in forgetting that, without Y, X's value collapses. The value in the add-on factor is second-order, and built on the value of the underlying Things.

We see this in Art. The central idea of Conceptual Art is essentially the statement that the Art Object itself is stupid and irrelevant. A great deal of modern art, whether conceptual or otherwise, partakes of this notion. A show of pictures can be of terrible, uninteresting, repetitive pictures, but with a great Artist's Statement it's a success,

We see this in the technology industry, we have endless millions being spent on things which boil down to the idea that the metadata or the interconnectedness is as valuable, or more valuable, than the Thing Itself. We lose sight of the fact that this value, while real and large, is second-order value. Without the Thing Itself, the structure collapses, and there is no value.

The information about my shopping habits and demographics has a value, to be sure. That value has a very strict upper bound: It is not and never will be worth more money that I am going to spend. In reality the upper bound is a very very small fraction of the amount I am willing to spend. Nobody but a fool would spend $100 in order to sell me $100 worth of products. There are fools, to be sure, but they don't stay in business long.

The shell game works a bit better in Art where the value is all perception anyways. It's still a shell game.

We see this game being played out in popular photography as well. On some picture sharing sites, the object appears to be to get your pictures to be popular. You'd like them to be Trending or Explored, or Most Liked or whatever. The way you do this is by making a pretty good picture, but more importantly a picture that hits the locally accepted standards, and then most importantly of all by marketing the hell out of it and yourself. Follow/Friend everyone. Like and +1 everything. Add your picture to as many groups or whatever as you can. Get it out there.

It doesn't really have to be that good, it just has to be well connected, and then you win the game.

And then you can take your winnings from the game and go... um. Well you't do anything with them. But it feels good.

No comments:

Post a Comment