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The measure of one's wealth changes with the times. First it was how much game you could hunt, then how much grain you could harvest, how much land you could accrue and how much money you could earn. Today, those wealth metrics have been joined by a 21st century invention: your personal data. The modern world runs on it.
In How to Be Human in the Digital Economy, author and professor of ethics at the Victoria University of Wellington, Nicholas Agar examines humanity's role in an increasingly automated future of our own design. In the excerpt below, Agar illustrates just how valuable your data is to tech companies and why you need to stop trading it away for social media's digital baubles and beads.
The introduction of trumping forms of wealth tends to generate intense feelings of unfairness. Some people come to an understanding of an incoming variety of wealth faster than others. They take the opportunity to engage in transactions that are subsequently viewed as unfair even if they are not so viewed at the time.
In the early 1900s, large quantities of oil were discovered under the land of farmers in Midwestern and Southern states. Those who understood the location of oil in the industrial package sought to acquire rights to its extraction at prices that took advantage of vendors' less intimate relationship with the industrial package. This is memorably depicted in the movie There Will Be Blood in which Daniel Day Lewis's character, Daniel Plainview, describes his plan to pay the Sunday family a low price for their land that does not reflect the value of the oil beneath it. He says "Well, I'm not gonna give them oil prices. I'll give them quail prices." Viewed in terms of its value to quail hunters, the Sunday land is not worth so much. Plainview is disappointed when Eli Sunday indicates a surprising awareness of the value of the oil beneath his family's land.
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