My post Siren Servers: Why Are We OK With Giving Away Our Data? did not get a single comment. It got two likes on Facebook and no retweets. But it’s been the post that’s generated the most emails from people of any post I’ve written in the past year.
It seems that a small group of people are realizing the changes that are happening as a result of human choices in technology, but not many are willing to comment publicly. I’m not sure why, but I’d like to keep the conversation going.
To recap, Jaron Lanier shows that we’ve decided that our data does not need to be compensated monetarily. This decision has wide ranging implications, but the biggest is that large companies with powerful servers end up sucking up most of the wealth, leaving the rest of us with the scraps.
So if you want to be successful in this coming world, there are only three choices:
1. Try to operate within the system
If you want to be successful and make money, you can try to become a siren server. But that’s really just like buying a lottery ticket. There are only a handful of successful siren servers in the world and your chances of being one is very small. If you can’t be the siren server, then it’s best to work at a siren server, or provide services to a siren server. These jobs aren’t all that safe, as you’re still exposed to massive competition and disruption.
You could also “sing for your supper” as Lanier likes to put it. You can give lectures, consult, do legal work and anything that’s labor intensive. These jobs will likely pay well while you are working but if you get sick, get old, have a kid, get married or decide you don’t want to physically perform every day of your life, you’re done. There’s little to no security. And to really make big money, you have to become a star, which is probably only an order of magnitude easier than being a siren server.
Put bluntly, if you want to be successful in a Siren Server world working within the current system, you’d better have top notch skills, an incredible work ethic, a bunch of luck and the drive to succeed. I’m talking the top 10%. And that 10% will likely get smaller every single day. If not, you’ll be relegated to menial work or unemployment. This is exactly what’s happening today.
2. Try to change the system and rewrite our social compact
Our current economy is simply a social compact. We’ve decided that our data is monetarily worthless. We’ve decided that we’ll go along with the narratives that those who are winning in today’s society deserve it 100% based on merit. We’ve decided that we believe in extreme meritocracy and we’re using it to justify just about anything. So if you want to be successful, you can work to change our social compact and change the system. You can raise awareness about what’s happening and why, although you’ll likely end up singing for your supper. You could try to create a new solution via technology that compensated people for their data. Or at least gave companies incentives to pay for data.
3. Decouple from technology and find a niche
In the long term, nearly all, if not all, industries will be affected by siren servers, but in the near and medium term, there are many industries will be slow to change or where change will allow people to be successful in niches. For example, even though the vast majority of food is manufactured via big agriculture, there’s a profitable niche for organic, free range and heirloom varieties at a premium price. In the age of Ikea, there’s a niche for handmade furniture that’s one of a kind. In the age of Starbucks, there’s a niche for a small premium coffee shop. In the age of Amazon, there’s a niche for super secure web hosting and niche products. You must be in the top couple percent in whatever niche you choose.
Most of these potential jobs are variations of singing for our supper, but they at least provide jobs that are less dependent on technology and siren servers, at least for the time being.
Notice that I don’t mention programming, nursing, science and engineering. I think as siren servers continue to develop, we’ll certainly still need these professions, but whereas now we can use the top 50% of people who have these skills, we’ll see a smaller and smaller amount who have useful skills.
I’ll use programming as an example. In 2005 if you wanted to create a personal website, you had to hire at least one programmer and one designer to custom build it for you. You’d likely spend at least $5,000 for a decently done personal website or blog, sometimes even upwards of $10,000. Fast forward to today. You can setup WordPress with a myriad of top-notch designs in minutes for as little as $100. Or free if you’re willing to torrent. I’m not a technical programmer, but even I understand enough to launch my own website, with decent design.
This same phenomenon is going to continue so that lay people will be able to do today’s seemingly difficult programming, just as I’m able to do a time consuming programming task from 2005 with software as a service. We’ll always need the top 1%-5% of talented people to do the big, tough groundbreaking work. But what will the rest do? No jobs are safe from the siren servers.
Long term, we face a stark choice. Do we continue to go down our current path of siren servers that accrue the benefits of technology and radiate the risk back into the system, while sucking up most of the monetary benefits? Or do we decide to make a change?
I’d love to get more of your thoughts, so if you’re thinking about similar topics, please comment here or send me a private message.