Saturday, August 18, 2012

ACME Corporation Will See You Now

For today's posting, I'm going to take you along my process of putting a story together.
My process today is based on one story creating method I use, called "Three Things and a Belief."  Click on the quoted title to go to the blog entry where I describe it in detail.  
Some time ago, I heard something that became the First Thing for this story.  It was: 
"Corporations are People, my friend."  
This was something spoken on the campaign trail by one of the candidates for president.  It was also something affirmed by the Supreme Court, specifically in reference to campaign financing.  In it's decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.  The statement made by the candidate running for president was made subsequent to that decision.  
I have my own opinion about this decision which I'll get to below.  But this 'thing' has been kicking around in my head for a while now, since that supreme court decision.  The kicking around got its own kick in the pants when the presidential candidate in question, responding to a heckler at a rally, phrased the decision more succinctly.  
Thing Two is something else I've been noticing and thinking about for a while now: 
"Group analytics and Crowd-Sourcing are changing decision making."
This is a combination of different things.  Crowd-sourcing is a form of outsourcing where a task is given over to the public to do.  Galaxy Zoo, for instance, is a website where people can help classify galaxies photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.  It makes use of a human's pattern recognition capacity, honed over millions of years of evolution, which is in many ways superior to that of computers.  
We are at the beginning of how group analysis and participation is changing our world.  We get suggestions from websites on what to buy based on what our friends purchased.  Our postings on Facebook and are Tweets on Twitter are being studied in real time.  Scientists have already predicted stock market fluctuations based on tweeter feed analysis.  We are a collective.    
The best recent example I've seen on projections of this type of activity comes from the science fiction author David Brin's new novel, Existence.  I haven't read the book yet, but I did hear an excerpt he read at Renovation, the WorldCon held in Reno last year.  In it, one of the characters, a reporter faced with a crisis, consults with a 'group mind,' a collection of experts and followers whose opinions are combined into a single gestalt, a "posse," that she consults with on what she is facing and how to solve it.  This posse speaks to her with a single voice, but is made up of all the people in the circle of followers.  As certain points of view increase, as the number of people in the gestalt increase, the voice speaks with great confidence.  Imagine talking all the tweets and postings of your friends, using analytics to combine them into a single opinion on a subject.  If you have particularly smart friends, this could be something valuable.  
Thing number three happened more recently.  
In the city of Anaheim, famous for being the home and headquarters of Disney Corporation and Disneyland, there have been some police shootings that have been deemed questionable by sections of the public.  Since I don't know all the facts involved, I'm am taking particular care to not take sides.  
My interest is one one particular protest, when a group of protestors wanting police department reforms marched not on City Hall, but on Disneyland.  From what I heard of the report, the idea behind the march was that since Disney was the single largest employer in the city, pressure should be brought on the company in order to bring pressure on the city government to change the perceived culture of the police department.  
There has been a growing distrust of government in this country in recent years.  And since the financial crisis, a growing lack of faith in the government to solve problems.  The march on Disneyland, though small and dispersed by the police before it could have any real impact, seemed to stem from that distrust and lack of faith.  Why march before City Hall when government can't do anything?  Why not march on the one entity in the city that has genuine power, the corporation that employs most of the people that live there.  
There's a disturbing logic to it.  
After I heard this story, it began to dance about with the other two Things I'd collected.  Corporations are people.  Groups of people forming a single consciousness to consult and advise.  People turning from government to corporations for the solutions to the problems they face.  There were connections between these three things, I felt.  
But to be a story, there needs to be a Belief associated with it.  Mine is: 
Corporations are NOT people...  Yet.  
As they are today, corporations are entities run by people.  People who are allowed by the First Amendment to state their political views freely and support by monetary means those candidates that share and espouse those same views.  I believe that by giving the corporations they run the same right to free speech everyone else enjoys, you've effectively doubled the rights of those people that run those corporations.  They already can use their personal means to get their beliefs into the market of ideas, often greater means than the average individual.  Now they also can have those views expressed by the corporation that they run, which will probably have even greater means at their disposal than they.  Unlike a married couple who are, for tax purposes at least, seen as a single entity, a corporation will never have a disagreement over how to spend its money with the people that run it.  
Unless, somehow, it were to acquire an identity of its own.  
I've heard it said that healthy corporations make a point of picking people with diverse backgrounds to join their boards, in order to bring in new, fresh ideas.  Stockholders have votes they can cast to select, promote, or cast out directors not taking the company in the direction they want, or for simply not making the company profitable.  They will gather periodically to meet and confer, make decisions and impact the corporation they are tied to.
Now imagine a time in the future, when all the members of a corporation's board of directors and stockholders are required to join the same online social circle.  Instead of taking time to actual meet face to face, their opinions, their beliefs on the correct course of action, are gleaned by analytics and used to create a single voice.  The data is weighted based on the amount of stock they hold.  This voice, this entity becomes "The Corporation."  It is the conscious of the company.  It can speak for itself.  It can't run the company on a day by day basis, but it does advise those people hired to do so, and it does have the power to hire and fire those people that do.    
Also imagine this being a time when government has failed.  Starved by lack of funds (who would want to give money to anything so ineffectual), government's only job is to create the laws, the statements of right and wrong that the people collectively hold true.  Even enforcement is out of their hands.  People police themselves, either by hiring the security they want and can afford, or by direct observation of those around them.  Do something wrong and you might not get a ticket or be arrested, but your face will be plastered all over YouTube for everyone to see.  Public humiliation replaces incarceration as the primary means of punishment.  And where humiliation is insufficient to curb wrong behavior, the civil court remains for those groups and organizations, those collectives, that put themselves up as watchdogs.    
It is in such a time period, I'm beginning to see someone.  He's a guy.  What we would call today a "working man."  He's one of millions of people that get up, go to work, do their job, love their wife and kids, drink a beer at night, cheer for the local team on weekends, and hopes to leave a better life for his children.  
But something is wrong.  I'm not quite sure what it is, yet.  Something that is beyond his means to solve.  Something impacting him and everyone in his neighborhood, and by "neighborhood," I mean all of those people he's linked to: his circle, his network, his co-workers that may live hundreds or thousands of miles away from him, but who impact his life on a daily basis with greater force that those people that live in proximity to his domicile.  This is another reason why government has failed, its inability to manage social structures that are increasingly no longer related to lines on a map, but more strongly tied to electro-magnetic lines that wind across the globe to bind us.  
This guy, Joe I'll call him, in his desperation, has approached the only entity he knows with the power to solve it.  Not his congressman or mayor.  Joe doesn't even remember who those people are, though it would only take a second to do a search.  He's come to the company whose interest in this crisis is as great as his.  Companies rarely grant requests from people outside their circle to meet them, his friends have told him through their messages, tweets, postings and direct communications.  It's a waste of time.  
But incredibly, Joe's request has been granted.  And so, I see him waiting.  Appropriately enough, in the waiting room of the company he's come to meet.  There is an air about him, like some serf from medieval days waiting for the lord of the castle to grant him an audience.  A communication damper, part of the company's security, cuts Joe off from his constant influx of communication with his circle.  He is as alone as he's ever been since the day he was born.  
The door opens.  A woman, tall, impeccably coiffed and styled, regards Joe for a moment.  She purses her lips for a moment and Joe gets the feeling she doesn't really want him there.  He gets to his feet, feeling uncomfortable in his best suit, which he knows cost less, in its entirety, than the shoes on her feet.  
The woman, as if responding to a voice whispering to her via the small earpiece with the tiny blue light in her ear, smiles and nods at him.  
"Mr. Stateman...?  Acme Corporation will see you now."  


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