THE ARRIVAL OF COGNITIVE GOODS
Economists have long used the terms Public Good
and Private Good
to describe categories of valued and useful goods and services with the latter being rivalrous and excludable and the former not. The arrival of information technology and an online culture has birthed a strong intellectual movement in favor of an intermediate, collaborative and robust " creative commons
", as promoted by such thinkers as Lawrence Lessig
, Howard Rheingold
and the authors of Wikinomics
, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams
is, incidently, an excellent book. A highly stimulating, must read).
Historically, the intellectual atmosphere available to millions in "the creative commons" of the internet was something available to a rarified and usually economically advantaged, few. Only until very recently, it required a career in a university or at think tanks like RAND to find such an atmosphere. In previous centuries, it was the salons of Paris, London's Royal Society and the courts of the Italian Renaissance that served as hubs for intellectual ferment. American founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush among many others, kept up a voluminous correspondence in order to grasp at the straws of such interaction.
Today, all that is required is a cheap PC and a reliable ISP connection and more brilliant intellects are potentially available for connection to any given individual today than ever before. The magnitude of such interactions are greater than at any time in history and as social networking and Web 2.0 apps, wikis and iPhone type devices become as ubiquitous as email and webpages, this trend is likely to continue upward for decades. Which leads me to ask if these interactions and the forums in which they take place ought not to be considered " cognitive goods
" transitioning between those that are public and private?
While intellectual activity can be considered a non-economic pastime or an amusement in the traditional sense economists have contemplated pleasure-seeking activities, cognitive goods are somewhat different. Obviously, these experiences are highly valued by their participants who invest considerable time on intellectual give and take on blogs, wikis and listserv groups, but they do not rise to the category of a financial investment in formal research ( though they could easily lead to that happening). While intangible, cognitive goods are frequently stepping-stones or catalysts to productive economic activity down the road and the creation of new or improvement of existing private or public goods, unlike say, eating a piece of cake, playing volleyball or watching television.
Moreover, the creative commons licensing structure encourages concepts to be kept in play for others to use, adapt and expand at a future date into useful goods or services. Arguably, the case can be made that cognitive goods would serve a transitional, facilitating or storage function for potentially, economically productive, ideas (Tapscott and Williams have an interesting chapter on the forums themselves that they term "ideagoras").
I'm not settled on this concept and I'm interested in hearing reader thoughts, particularly if you are well versed in economics, IP issues or related fields but the floor is open to anyone. Good idea ? Poor? Redundant? Needs more work? What ?
Labels: cognitive goods, economics, futurism, ideas, network theory, web 2.0, wikinomics