Consider the chair in which you are now sitting. What is it made of? Materials? Molecules?
Not just. It’s also made out of information. And it’s the information that’s more valuable.
Stuff has always been made of whatever we can see and know. The components with which we come in contact, whether through site, touch, or an electron microscope.
In realtime, we can “see” much more than the physical composition of an object. We can determine who made it and why. Who has used it. What they thought or are currently thinking about it. We can understand the “embedded energy” required to produce it. We can know the impact of discarding it.
The value of stuff increasingly lies in its components of meaning. Things like who made it and why. Things like provenance. This has been true of art for over two centuries. Now it’s true of fruit and vegetables.
Take Fairtrade bananas. They are different than non-Fairtrade bananas. Even if both (or neither) are organically produced, the way in which the bananas reached your shopping basket is a fundamental characteristic of their value. And mainstream shoppers increasingly prefer them. Do they taste better? Depends on how you define taste, I suppose.
Why is this important?
Because we are entering an era in which the non-material aspects of stuff will play evermore important roles in its production, value and regulation. For one simple reason: it’s all knowable.
Today, certain molecular (ie chemical) ingredients are deemed “unhealthy” and against the law. Things like heroin and hydrogenated fat. In the future, it’s safe to assume that certain production processes will be legislated against in much the same way. Or at least punitively taxed, either by the government or simply by consumer rejection. What sorts of processes or outcomes might be considered toxic? Those that use more than their fair share of resources. Those that accelerate the extinction of polar bears, penguins or people.
We may well see a shift from banned substances to banned processes. Meta-labeling the cause and effect of buildings, products and software could easily become law. And even if it doesn’t, social tagging in realtime will reveal the meaning-based components of all we touch, buy, eat, use, experience. It’s already happening. Social recommendation is the most powerful purchase influencer. Social recommendation in realtime — at the moment of truth, as retailers call that final walk to the cashier, will be even more influential.
At the same time, we will likely see the rise of encouraged processes and outcomes. In a marketplace that values more than the physical, there will be pragmatic economic incentives to produce things out of good meaning and good intent.
This is not just about corporate social responsibility. Realtime ingredients also include things like fun, happiness, quietness, deliciousness and common sense.
So, if you produce something — no matter what category — it’s time to consider the realtime ingredients of whatever it is you make and unleash on the world. For most of us, this is good news — we can use stories, metadata, fan bases and other makers of meaning to increase the true value of whatever it is we offer.
This used to be called branding. Now it’s real, and realtime.