I’ve been developing a new online stock market for the past two months. The alpha version will be up soon. Hopefully it will help people to retain the value of their immaterial labor in social web services. This is the continuation of my A Stock Market in Life project and experiments done in the Physical Language Workshop at MIT Media Lab. I will post about it later, for now this post is about some inspirations and recent observations that motivate me.
While building the stock market system I got inspirations ranging from my childhood experiences to my observations on today’s Internet economy and techno-cultural genres.
When I was around 15, I worked at a currency exchange office in the world famous Grand Bazaar (satellite view), Istanbul. At the time, Grand Bazaar was the center for determining the gold and foreign currency exchange rate in Turkey. There were no electronics in the heart of the bazaar back then. Just bidders cheering the price of dollars at their hand. My job was to get in this crowd and learn the recent exchange rate between US Dollar and Turkish Liras, and report it back to the office. So that the office can update the exchange rate and sell or buy dollars from this new rate. There was no agency to track and announce the recent price. People were just learning the recent price from each other, face to face, right there in the crowd. Dynamics of this humane structure was one of the inspirations for me to implement a peer-to-peer stock exchange system.
While building the trading interface, I did a quick visual survey about stock markets in different cultures. Of course, most of the stock markets function electronically, but I found interesting scenes from stock exchange centers. I didn’t have a chance to get in the actual NYSE floor (closed to public for “security reasons”). I just found other people’s stock market photographs on the web, mostly on Flickr.
NASDAQ. World’s first electronic stock market NASDAQ is fully abstract. It has only a vitrine for feeding the tourists in Times Square. Photograph by mlesn on Flickr.
Baghdad Stock Exchange. Brokers gathering around hot stocks on the whiteboards. Trades are conducted by hand. Photograph top left, photograph top right, and Photograph bottom by Baghdad Chris on Flickr.
Hong Kong Stock Exchange. People on the floor are for backup â€“ most of the activities occur electronically back at their main offices. Photograph by heycreation on Flickr.
Tokyo Stock Exchange. Although everything is electronic, it seems the agencies are actively serving the traders. Photograph by majurcic on Flickr.
Considering today’s Internet economy and world’s network infrastructure, it is hard to understand why we still have physical centers for stock markets.
What is “the market of spectacles” anyways?
In The Society of Spectacle (1967) Guy Debord says:
“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.”
There is a difference between Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle and today’s networked society of spectacle. Today, the spectacle is digitally measurable.
I went out and took pictures of some iPhone crowd in front of the Apple Store the other day. I put them on the Flickr and this picture got 1,500 views in 12 hours. Many excited people did the same thing. They uploaded live videos to YouTube, they bookmarked iPhone applications to Delicious, they posted the most interesting iPhone stories on the Digg. They generated tons of views to their profiles and traffic to these domains. Their profile’s rankings increased. People linked each other’s iPhone posts. They got more hits on their blog. As a result the whole spectacle was digitally measured and generated value. Once we have a measured value at hand, it can easily change hands in a market environment.
This iPhone happening was called eventstreaming at TechCrunch and O’Reilly Radar blogs. Considering the measurability of spectacles and their critical relation to capital, I call it an instance in the market of spectacles.