Filmed on Tuesday March 31, 02015

Paul Saffo

The Creator Economy

Paul Saffo is a forecaster with over two decades experience exploring the dynamics of large-scale, long-term change. He teaches forecasting at Stanford University and chairs the Future Studies and Forecasting track at Singularity University.

According to futurist (and Long Now board member) Paul Saffo, the "new economy” anticipated in the late 01990s is arriving late and in utterly unexpected ways. Social media, maker culture, the proliferation of sensors, and even the 02008 market crash are merely local phenomena in a much larger shift. What unfolds in the next few years will determine the shape of the global economy for the next half-century and will force a profound rethink of economic theory.

Paul Saffo teaches forecasting at Stanford and Singularity University. Journalists rely on him for cruelly telling quotes about everything from the monthly disruptions in Silicon Valley to the yearly turmoils in the global economy.

The Creator Economy

Media innovations drive economic shifts, Saffo began. “We invent new technology and then use it to reinvent ourselves.”

1. The Industrial/producer Economy. At the beginning of the 20th century the leading scarcity was stuff, and so manufacture was systematized. By 1914 one of Ford’s workers could buy a Model T car with four month’s salary. Production efficiency won the Second World War for the allies. In 1944 the US was producing 8 aircraft carriers a month, a plane every five minutes, and 50 merchant ships a day. The process became so efficient that its success ended the dominance of that economy. That always happens. “Every new abundance creates an adjacent scarcity.“

2. The Consumer Economy. The new scarcity was desire. 1958 brought the first credit card. The CEOs of leading companies shifted from heads of production to heads of marketing. Container ships doubled global trade.

3. The Creator Economy. In 1971 Herbert Simon predicted, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently.” The new scarcity turned out to be engagement. The mass media television channels that had dominated the Consumer Economy were overwhelmed by personal media--YouTube, eBay, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, Google, Etsy. Hollywood was overwhelmed by video games. (The blockbuster movie “Avatar“ opened in 2009 with a $73 million weekend. The previous month, the game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold $310 million in 24 hours.)

Mass participation became the new normal. Stuff is cheap; status comes from creation. Value is created by engagement---from Wikipedia entries to Google queries to Mechanical Turk services to Airbnb to Uber to Kaggle analyses. Burning Man sets the standard of “no spectators.” Makers insist that “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”

Saffo advised recalling four warnings for revolutionaries. 1) There are winners and losers. 2) Don’t confuse early results with long-term outcomes. 3) Successful insurgents become over-powerful incumbents. 4) Technologies of freedom become technologies of control.

If we want privacy now, we have to pay extra for it. As with our smart phones, we will subscribe to self-driving cars, not own them. With our every move tracked, we are like radio-collared bears. Our jobs are being atomized, with ever more parts taken over by robots. We trade freedom for convenience.

Over the 30 or so years remaining in the Creator Economy, Saffo figures that we will redefine freedom in terms of interdependence, and he closed with Richard Brautigan’s poem about a “cybernetic ecology” where we “are all watched over by machines of loving grace.”

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SALT Summaries Book

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Condensed ideas about long-term thinking summarized by Stewart Brand
(with Kevin Kelly, Alexander Rose and Paul Saffo) and a foreword by Brian Eno.

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