Social health and distributed value: a radiant future

The recently heralded demise of Google Reader will precipitate a slew of sardonic posts from commentators across industries who will deride us in colourful terms for our short-sightedness in having used a freely available technology which is about to be withdrawn.

This reprimand will serve as the prolegomenon to a lengthy diatribe concerning our myopia with regard to not having thought through what would happen if this technology that we paid nothing for were to be snatched away from us.

Duly chided, the user may simply reply ‘who cares?’ for as many others have already pointed out, it’s not like there aren’t a plethora of other ways to keep on top of your RSS feed. Also, the fact that you use RSS to order your incoming news today doesn’t mean that you will do so in perpetuity.

Our insightful pundit would then doubtless return to his laptop for another bout of frenzied keyboard abuse to insist that we were missing the point, and that our reliance on the free technologies at the centre of our workflows will eventually undermine our entire enterprise.

I’d disagree with this imaginary observer’s point of view, which is probably a good time to set this exercise in unreality asidešŸ˜‰

I contend that we need better definitions of what constitutes value, not aĀ redefinition of the relative significance of transitory elements of our workflow.

Over time, the concept of value has acquired a number of related definitions.

I can think of no better definition of use and exchange value than those offered by Duncan Foley:

Since the commodity is a product which is exchanged, it appears as the union of two different aspects: its usefulness to some agent, which is what permits the commodity to enter into exchange at all; and its power to command certain qualities of other commodities in exchange. The first aspect the classical political economists called use value, the second exchange value.

Unless you’re self-employed or work for Waitrose, you don’t need to concern yourself for now with surplus value, the third element of this economic triptych. I say ‘for now’, because whilst the transformative power of social technologies is already obvious in cultural (and I include health in this) and political contexts, they are still underdetermined in economic contexts. By which I mean: their outlines are discernible, but we’re not thinking or talking about them enough. I’ve a good deal more to say on this within the context of social business and healthcare, but that lies beyond the purview of this particular post.

Symbolic value is the pin up (or perhaps the Pinterest) of the social web, and can assume tangible (from a design/user experience/user interface-enhancing goal state to a design/user experience/user interface-diminishing fail state) and intangible (from a community/purpose goal state to an alienation/futility fail state) forms.

The Social Web has created a fifth value form: distributed value (William Gibson‘s famous maxim about the future can be read productively through the observation regarding surplus value above).

Through the complex, adaptive matrix of the social web, distributed value radiates through all of the markers of the future of social health, from the cognitive surplus that has created the thousands of health-related entries on Wikipedia, to the gamers solving health-related puzzles on fold.it, to the freely-given, invaluable, always-on peer support from patients and healthcare professionals offered by the hundreds of health-related tweetchats addressing every disease area across geographies in many languages.

The distributed value of social health radiates through all our work.

Distributed value isn’t a function of solid-state electronics.

Distributed value is a state of mind.

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