Markets are languages with a poor vocabulary

In the opening panel at Supernova2008 Esther Dyson got into a discussion with Bob Iannucci, who is the CTO of Nokia, about markets for online exchange of infomation between individuals and businesses. Bob Iannucci seemed to make the point that markets for the exchange of personal information could mitigate individuals’ fear of giving up adresses, preferences and so on to companies. In other word he advocated that the price mechanism would enable efficient exchange of personal information based on its value to the individual as opposed to its value to company.

Esther objected to this quantification of the personal utility of private online users. She said that “Businesses has to acknowledge that not all users are online either to buy something or to sell something, in this case their personal information”. People has much more nuanced motivations for exchanging information with others. Just like in the offline world the by far largest number of exchanges that involves real humans are completely non-market based.

Bob Ianucci described markets as languages enabling exchanges. I agree that this is often the case but its important to understand that the price mechanism more than often is extremely insufficient to express complex and emotional relations between human beings.

Markets may be languages but with vocabularies and grammar far to poor to understand much of the interaction between human beings!

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