A shadow economy controls all of the systems of monetary influence in the world. This system derives value from sharing wealth, in the form of information. It is the economy of words, metered by our attention.
This economic system has the largest and most complex trading floor ever designed by mankind: the public commons. It regenerates in direct proportion to the number of people connected to it, which has no apparent limit.
We are limited by our ability to transform this wealth. Which is to say, the human mind has cognitive bounds, and can only process so much information at once. That is why the average number of words in a sentence is around 16, and the average number of overall characters is around 160. A German man once did that math, and wrote 160 characters into his global standard for mobile text messaging (GSM).
Twitter has a limit of 140 characters, in order to include the identity of the sender in each text message. This constraint has created a marketplace of ideas that may only be expressed in a short format of words, symbols, and hypertext links.
Currency in this system may or may not be persistent; what is written now is not guaranteed to grow in relevance over time. This currency is measured not only in numbers (follower count, mentions, click-throughs), but also influence and authority. In other words, it matters less how large your audience, but rather who is reading.
With Twitter we are each reporters, breaking the news of our daily lives. Individual messages may be profound or mundane, but taken in aggregate the public sentiment can be a powerful economic indicator.
Each voice has a distinct value depending on context. In the case of text donations to Haiti we have seen how valuable the space of one sentence can be.
As part of the Declaration of Amsterdam at the Worldwide Congress on Information Technology, we must to bring this “text-messaging Internet” to the places where literacy and commerce are most needed.
We literati are the gifted few in society with the responsibility to propagate access, extend the public commons, annotate, curate, analyze, and add value to it. Let us take information technology and enable electronic communities to form in the most desperate places on earth.
Give a voice to every man, woman, and child on earth. Then listen for the tweet heard ’round the world.