Toward a new medievalism?

June 28, 2009 at 3:45 pm | In business, comments, futurismo, ideas, media, social_critique, web | Comments Off on Toward a new medievalism?

I just left this comment on It’s me going off on a typical theory bender, but the idea of Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL) sparked another “here come the Middle Ages” image/moment for me. (As I note in the comment, they’ve been popping up for me since the late 1970s: my first one happened in the south of France, in a literally medieval town on a street with lots of commerce: pop!, a vision of what we could go back to – and I didn’t like the distinctly anti-modernist feel of it.)

That’s an interesting exchange between you and John Battelle, Fred. Now I’m going to go totally off-topic here and get all abstract, but I have to say that to my mind there’s something Medieval in some of the emerging business models and how they’re changing the nature of markets.

In the feudal Middle Ages, powerful patrons – either the Church or the Feudal lords – determined the markets. Markets weren’t free, they weren’t determined by market forces (as we think we understand them since the various emancipations) or really shaped by the “little people” (who in the modern period developed into powerful consumers).

When I read (as per transcript): “…if you think about what businesses and celebrities and brands need on Twitter and what they’re not getting today, there’s a whole set of premium services that are there,” I’m *understanding* something that reminds me of feudal medievalism where markets are determined by the needs of powerful patrons (church and/or lords). (John Battelle repeats the point further down when he says, “You said something about brands on Twitter, sort of like celebrities having the ability to sort of build an official presence.”)

I didn’t understand recent controversies about Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL). I saw Dave Winer’s tweets about the SUL, but didn’t understand why he questioned the concept. Maybe I do now – albeit in my own weird way (Dave probably would roll his eyes at my interpretation…).

The SUL concept nudges markets back into a feudal framework where forces other than actual market forces determine the market landscape.

Maybe I’m crazy – I’ve had occasional bad dreams for nearly 30 years now about how feudal Medievalism is clawing back bits of Modernity. (Blame Umberto Eco, whose writings encompass Modernity and the Middle Ages.) The idea comes to me in pictures, which is maybe why I struggle so much to get the words right (the anti-icons, the iconoclastics). Me no likey what I see with SUL-type aspects of the business model and how it has the potential to alter markets.

I love the internet and all the great stuff out there, I plunge right in, sound off, play along. I love pictures and emblems and icons, but at heart I’m a daughter of the Enlightenment (words, words, words). Pictures, specifically icons, are Medieval. Yet in the new world that we’re making, even words – such as passed links – are turned into image, into something that’s consumed like an image (in a glance, or uncritically). Exegesis – trying to understand and interpret words – is still important it seems, as per the comment that reading the transcript of the video is better than watching the moving image…! But you could chalk that up to Medievalism, too. They did a lot of exegesis back then. 😉

Ok, I’m generalizing (wildly?), and I’m going off into my own little theory-land here. But as you said yourself, “Social media together is going to be bigger than Google.” Google and the internet certainly changed our thinking about everything, including thinking about thinking itself. Tell me it’s not rewiring our brains – of course it is. Now social media are poised to rewire the market. I just happen to think that bits of it are kind of medieval, and every time the notion of the tribe (certainly an important idea in the new market place) is celebrated without critical reflection, something in me dies a little bit.

If my favorite enlightened Marxist, Groucho, were still alive, I wonder how he would position himself, market-wise, in the social media landscape, and if he would want to be on the SUL? 😉

Originally posted as a comment by Yule Heibel on A VC using Disqus.

Reblogged to here as mnemonic / string around the finger.

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