The wave of financial calamities that took place in 2008 was cloud-based. No one in the pre–digital-cloud era had the mental capacity to lie to himself in the way we routinely are able to now. The limitations of organic human memory and calculation put a cap on the intricacies of self-delusion. In finance, the rise of computer-assisted hedge funds and similar operations has turned capitalism into a search engine. You tend the engine in the computing cloud, and it searches for money. In the past, an investor had to be able to understand at least something about what an investment would actually accomplish. No longer. There are now so many layers of abstraction between the elite investor and actual events that he no longer has any concept of what is actually being done as a result of his investments…
The Facebook Kid and the Cloud Lord are serf and king of the new order. In each case, human creativity and understanding, especially one’s own creativity and understanding, are treated as worthless. Instead, one trusts in the crowd, in the algorithms that remove the risks of creativity in ways too sophisticated for any mere person to understand. A hedge-fund manager might make money by using the computational power of the cloud to create fantastical financial instruments that make bets on derivatives in such a way as to invent the phony virtual collateral for stupendous risks. This is a subtle form of counterfeiting, and it is precisely the same maneuver a socially competitive teenager makes in accumulating fantastical numbers of “friends” through a service like Facebook. But let’s suppose you disagree that the idea of friendship is being reduced. Even then one must remember that the customers of social networks are not the members of those networks. The real customer is the advertiser of the future, but this creature has yet to appear in any significant way. The whole artifice, the whole idea of fake friendship, is just bait laid by the cloud lords to lure hypothetical advertisers—we might call them messianic advertisers—who could someday show up.
Reading Scott Horton’s piece The Guantánamo “Suicides” finally prodded me into paying for a two-year subscription to Harper’s. I’ve been trying to cut back on the amount of paper that comes into the house, but I realized that I’ve bought at least eight of the last 12 issues over the counter. This may be a feckless leap of faith, since Harper’s has had the same troubles as all the other dead-tree media recently, but too often I just don’t “get around” to reading long, thoughtful reports online. Horton‘s No Comment blog is on my short list of favorites, and he uses all the added-value online features (pics, video, links) cleverly and unobtrusively. It’s one of the blogs I would miss greatly, even if I don’t remember to click on it every day.