Playing well: Coordination

Human history is marked by the increasing complexity of social groups. From small bands of hunter-gatherers to large-scale civilizations, our ability to coordinate has been a key factor in our survival and progress as a species. Bigger groups, on average, have had a better chance of survival, but with that comes the need for increased coordination. As societies become more advanced, the size of social groups tends to increase as well.

However, the future is invisible because the coordination necessary for it does not fit into the tidy categories of extraction and rent-seeking that have become dominant in our economic system. We have grown accustomed to extracting resources and maximizing profits, often at the expense of long-term sustainability and social cohesion. This type of system may not be sustainable in the face of the challenges posed by an increasingly interconnected and complex world.

So what technologies enhance coordination vs extraction and rent-seeking? One possibility is the use of digital platforms and tools that allow for collaboration and decentralized decision-making. In conclusion, the ability to coordinate effectively is a critical factor in our survival and progress as a species. As our social groups become larger and more complex, the need for coordination increases. However, our current economic system, based on extraction and rent-seeking, may not be well-suited to meet the challenges of the future. New technologies, such as digital platforms, AI, and VR/AR, offer promising ways to enhance coordination and facilitate the kind of collaboration necessary for a more sustainable and equitable future.


Ric Amurrio Jul 8, 2018 · 23 min read


If you’re American and over 50 years old, you may still recall the days when 63% of your fellow Americans faithfully watched Gunsmoke on the tube — the peak of the united-by-TV feeling and the tube-driven national identity.

In music, when looking at Neil Young, Santana, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and other major music brands with this kind of global mass-market appeal, I would conclude that in addition to their obvious genius their vast success was also due to a severe distribution bottleneck that simply did not allow ubiquitous and economic access to many other artists as well. In other words, not all music by all artists was equally available (as it is today!).

In music, it seems like the “power” is just now starting to move to the edges of the network, rather than continuing to come from the middle, i.e. Network “edge-dwellers” are increasing. Podcasting, blogging, and online networking are activities that are largely happening on the edges of the network. Thus, they are still mostly unregulated and represent a new kind of “bottom-up” phenomenon.

Deep shifts in technology and society are undermining the very foundations of Broadcast. Shifts that render the system itself obsolete. Technology is not neutral. As Marshall McLuhan wrote, “we become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us


Broadcast is a mode of communication where you have a strong asymmetry between the signaler, the communicator, the expresser, and the audience meaning both that there may be a small number of signalers like say one and a potentially very large number of audience/listeners. All the various kinds of mass media (newspaper, radio, television) share a basic character: they are asymmetric. One to many, author to audience. Not every person can get access to the printing press, the radio station or the television broadcast booth. Those few that can are the ones to get to create the narrative. Everyone else is the audience.

You might say that Broadcast is the consequence of what happens when you endeavor to generate a social control structure. It is an evolved (rather than designed) function and we can trace its roots at least as far back as the beginning of the 20th Century where it emerged in response to the new capabilities of mass media for social control. By mid-century it began to play an increasingly meaningful role in forming and shaping American culture- and seems to have peaked in its influence somewhere in the first decade of the 21st Century.

It’s An architecture that enables a scalable division of labor for social sense making and decision making. No one can possibly try and understand even a small fraction of what is going on in the world. So we break the problem up into bits, hand the smaller problems up the expertise hierarchy where they are processed and reduced to simple shared “good opinion” which is then broadcast down and out to the whole population.

Once you understand the basic shape of BROADCAST control structure, you begin to see it everywhere. There is a basic bi-directional flow. In the upwards direction there is the flow of “credentialed authority.” The “experts” who are authorized through some legitimizing process to be permitted to form and express their opinions through some form of broadcast media. In the downwards direction, these “good opinions” which anchor and place boundaries around our collective social coherence.

There’s very little going back. We read, listen, watch but not much else. As an audience we are coherent. As a mass, we transform from millions of diverse individuals into one, relatively simple, group. So long as we can be maintained in this coherence, we present something that can be managed. This is the formal core of BROADCAST: it solves the problem of 20th Century social complexity through the use of mass media to generate manageable social coherence (…)

For example, imagine what street traffic would look like if everyone had their own opinions about what should happen. Disaster. But as long as we all agree, implicitly and without much consideration, that a red light means “stop” then suddenly millions of people flinging tons of steel about at sixty five miles per hour is manageable.


A lot of the the primary signaling organisms of the BROADCAST like NPR Rolling Stone, Clearwater, Kerrang! most of what they are doing is orienting the audience on how to orient themselves towards other phenomena in the world right they’re not actually conveying content most of the time most of what they’re doing is providing kind of a prefab set of evaluations about what the landscape looks likes and here’s how you should respond to it so that you are active within the constraints of good opinion or and the most positive spin. You’re acting under the recommendation of wise people who’ve done a good job digesting this and providing the prefab way of responding to the world.

Signal each other simply which is just that if I express something within the boundary conditions of good opinion then at a minimum you can know that I’m part of your structure and that I’m in your group and in fact depending on the flavor of good opinion that I express you can even position me and know where I am in that group and can orient yourself and how to relate to me.


We are a pack animal constantly trying to make sure we have high status within the pack; In BROADCAST society, to hold and express good opinion means that you are part of the pack, in the tribe, on the team. Holding and expressing good opinion brings social benefit. More importantly, failing to hold and express good opinion can be ruinous.

This social dynamic means that good opinion is self-reinforcing. There is no need for a top-down thought police or such. Once enough people are coherent around good opinion, natural human social dynamics will kick-in to maintain that coherence. The downside result of this social reinforcement, of course, is the echo chamber where opinions that violate good opinion are removed from discourse — even when they are valuable and important. And the contemporary BROADCAST has definitely developed into an echo chamber. There is always room to play *within* good opinion, of course. In fact, the Broadcast offers a broad menu of good opinions to try on and play with. As long as you play within the coherence of good opinion, you are free to roam. You have the freedom to be Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift.


What we’re endeavoring to do, you and I, we’re endeavoring to engage in the formation of a coherence between us. We’re collaborating ­ which is to say that we’re endeavoring to construct a collaborative sovereignty.

And to jump to the end, the only way we figure this out is we build a collaborative sovereignty. If I thought you were lying to me, if I thought you were trying to manipulate or take advantage of me, or even if I just enter into a situation where I couldn’t trust you enough to tell you the full and honest truth; that is catastrophic for collaborative sovereignty and puts you in a space of potential defection.

In this conversation with you, I can enter into a space of potential collaboration and I happen to have made a commitment to be willing to take the risk of doing so. And then if, you know, if it turns out you do I just sort of shut down and stop engaging with you and kind of cleave you from the like you’re now hostile;­ no more engagement. It’s actually literally called Double Tit ­for ­Tat in Game Theory.

That’s sort of what happened with Broadcast

I can’t trust any signal that comes from broadcast, full stop. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care if I think they’re well ­intentioned or not, the underlying structures and organizational dynamics that control the broadcast signals guarantee that they are so deeply embedded in the war of sense­making, that they cannot be trusted. Which means they cannot be used for collaboration. Which means that any signal that comes from them or drives them, is effectively a virus that breaks down our capacity to enter into individual collaborative sovereignty.


The habit of seeking authority is not merely a product of BROADCAST training. It is, in fact, one of the more hard wired aspects of being human. However, when we look at our hardwired “attention allocation” functions, we discover that human beings use a pretty simple model: pay attention to the people who other people are paying attention to. As a society, we are obsessed with who has attention, and conspicuously less interested in whether it is deserved.


In a broadcast world, merely being “on camera” is to be credentialed. Regardless of your actual capabilities, insight, or character, if you can somehow manage to get on camera you are granted actual audience *and* social authority (Kim Kardashian). By contrast, if (for some reason), access to the camera is prevented, withheld or otherwise not achieved, your lack of access results in both lack of practical audience *and* questionable authority — regardless of your actual capabilities. Broadcast is powerful. When tens of millions of people are consistently entrained to narratives honed to a sharp edge by market forces to be hyper-capable of grabbing and holding attention, it is going to have an effect.

There is just one problem hierarchies of competence tend to become captured. So it’s obvious that if you want to control something what you do is you find out the control system and if that control system happens to have a directionality to the way that information flows and it tends to have a hierarchy then what you do is find a way to get to the top of the hierarchy effectively created a really high quality niche and is there any evolutionary theorists who tell you every niche is going to be filled and of course that sort of thing has happened and will continue to happen

Back in the 60s and 70s, the radio industry was flush with cash. DJs ruled the airwaves, passing judgement upon the thousands of records that slid their way courtesy of big, labels with money to burn. Their job as official arbiters of cool was to pluck the chosen few singles destined for rotation the exposure of which to an eager listening public translated directly into sales. record promoters had to work extra hard to make sure their clients scored airplay from DJs on the choicest stations. Sometimes, phone calls weren’t enough — “Why waste time going out with someone you don’t like and sit down and feast with them when you can’t stand them?” he once said. “Just give them the money and let them play the fucking record.”

“I can remember when most rock critics held the record companies and that in contempt, and just went and wrote what they wanted. Where now it seems like it’s really the opposite, that most of the people writing about the music are pretty much in the pocket of the record companies,”.’ Then it’s disgusting ’cause it’s just one more example of people not thinking for themselves, and these are the opinion-makers not thinking for themselves!”

Payola became a misdemeanor charge. Thanks to a loophole — Congress didn’t say a word about undisclosed payments — the law had about as much of an effect as Prohibition had on the gangsters.

Modern-Day Payola

To sum it up, labels hire indie promoters to flog records to radio stations, promoters pay radio stations in cash, giveaways, and assorted swag, and those same promoters often draw a second salary from the stations themselves to “consult” on which songs to add into the rotation. Bigger labels have bigger budgets, which gives promoters bigger incentives to get results creating a sanitized, soulless music landscape, wherein the tastemakers are just regurgitating whatever they’ve guzzled down from the hands that feed.

Pay-for-Play Era Limp Bizkit

In 1998, the still-fledgeling rap-rock outfit’s management paid a local radio station, KUFO 101.1, to play their song “Counterfeit” for five weeks straight, cushioned by a “presented by Interscope” announcement before and after. The company framed it as a “pay-for-play” scheme while distancing itself from payola accusations,

The record, Three Dollar Bill Y’all, went on to sell over 170,000 copies, launched Limp Bizkit’s career, and standardized the practice of pay-for-play for a whole new generation of greedy DJs and greedier record labels. In the past decade alone, Clear Channel, Song BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music, Universal Music Group, CBS Radio, Citadel, and Entercom have all paid millions of dollars in fines for flouting payola regulations, skittering through loopholes left and right to push product (

As recently as 2014, Clear Channel’s On the Verge program provided an elegant example of how payola has evolved into more insidious forms when they required their 840 radio stations to play Iggy Azalea’s megahit “Fancy” a minimum of 150 times for approximately six weeks. The song went on to rack in a combined number of sales and track-equivalent streams to the tune of 9.1 million.

Broadcast has cannibalized the minds of millions — drawing their mental attention toward the issues that are bounced around in these information echo chambers and siphoning it away from the deep, systemic threats humanity is now confronted with. The Algonquin Tribe of North America has a name for this phenomenon; they call it Wetiko. It is a mind virus that endlessly consumes the life energies of people (in this case, the emotional energy given to feed this media monster) while neglecting the life-supports that would heal and protect the living things of this world.


The problem is that “pattern recognition” can’t adapt to changing circumstances. If your environment changes and you aren’t able to move into and exercise “learning mode,” you are in trouble. Our environment is changing. So fast that I think we can say that there has never been a time when we needed to be able to learn and adapt more than right now. Now, more than ever, we need to be playing. So, why aren’t we rediscovering playing?.

Learning requires feedback. It requires the capability to participate with your environment and test ideas relating to the world. You learn how to talk by trying to talk. If you babble “ma ma” and this grabs your mums attention, you have done great. But television? No amount of yelling at your TV is going to change the narrative. Neither Barney nor Big Bird is going to respond in the least to your imprecations.

So what does broadcast media teach in a strict sense? The developmental environment of broadcast teaches that nuanced emotions and feelings (the original toolkit of playing) are for the most part irrelevant. That your capacity to skillfully use your good judgment and respond to the world has little to no effect — and that the correct (only?) use of your agency is to select from a pre-fab menu of possible choices (what shows are on? what is my favorite show?) and then to respond appropriately (laugh when the laugh track tells you that funny happened, cower when the sound track tells you that scary is happening, change the channel when you are bored).

How about the collective environment itself? Well, consider: real interactions take a lot of time and they require a lot of context. It takes a long time to get to know someone well. Our modern surroundings provide very little of that! Instead, we keep disrupting interactions (different classes, different grades, going away to college, a new a job) and cramming them (over and over again) in the same kind of “simulated playing” environments. A little bit like social media, possibly the best example of a thin and fabricated environment.


Anything that is hierarchical at all has actually a limit on the amount of information that it can process. What’s interesting about that is that we may have passed that limit that the world that we currently live in the world that exists as a consequence of the success of the BROADCAST. The future may actually be more complex than any hierarchical social control system can manage at all so we’re in store for some meaningfully significant shift from the BROADCAST

There are many reasons why the BROADCAST is crumbling. One of them because it has reached a sort of Nash Non Equilibrium. Some of it has to do with an increasing friction among the diverse sub-narratives that have gathered under it, particularly where the fundamental incoherence of “identity politics” is reaching a tipping point However, while this tension is important, I don’t think it is fundamental. Instead, to identify the real existential threat to the BROADCAST, I return to our two core concepts: technology and complexity.

One primary driver behind the collapse of the BROADCAST is the swift replacement of the very mass media it is premised upon with a new symmetric kind of media — the Internet.

This new media presents a niche for coherence that is very different from the one that gave rise to the BROADCAST.


For the first time in human history the spoken word has the same reach as the written word and not only that no leg to publication and no barrier to entry that’s a major technological revolution that’s a Gutenberg revolution that’s a big deal this is a this is a game-changer and then the podcast world which is about ten times as big as the YouTube world and the podcast world is also a Gutenberg revolution except it’s even more extensive

We start to see outlines of hidden media worlds that give birth to very different communities of truth. The deep truth about “decentralized media” is that no one has direct access to reality.

The real world is nearly impossible to see in this maelstrom of poorly framed stories, incomplete analysis, self-serving content, lies and misinformation, and invisible algorithms held in private by large companies.

This is because human minds need to “construct” their own version of reality — and each of us does this within a community of shared experiences and beliefs. Said succinctly, there are many social worlds and each is built on its own version of what is real and true. Structures hidden in the media have profound influence on what gets seen, how it is shared, and who sees the same things.

What IS new is the decentralization of media creation that enables each community to remain isolated and separate. Each community is now capable of building consensus with itself, where the like-minded talk to others like themselves while forgetting just how big, diverse, and fragmented the world truly is. They seem to think that if they just get their ideas to “go viral” they will find the memes that spread and come to dominate the discourse. The great lie of this approach is that no singular discourse exists!

It is this technological transition that leads me to the conclusion that while BROADCAST can certainly struggle and hold for a while, their day is done. The level of complexity of the 21st Century is simply outside of the control capacity that is possible within the form of the BROADCAST. Unless we abandon Broadcast and move to a new approach, our race into the future will be increasingly out of control. In the context of these challenges, the BROADCAST is simply in way over its head. The world is just too big and moving too fast for this kind of control hierarchy to keep up — even when it is trying to do its best, it is going to get in the way. Addressing these challenges is going to require the innovation of an entirely new approach to how we collectively make sense of and act in the world.

We can also begin to do some work on understanding what might be in the process of emergence. However, and this is a profoundly important point, we currently know of no form of control structure that is adequate — even in principle.

Our entire approach to managing complex systems like culture and public goods is flawed. Until the late 20th Century we could get away with this because you could always Go west and create a new hierarchies. We need to switch from trying to manage complex systems with complicated control structures and invent entirely new techniques for intrinsically up regulating new hierarchies. We don’t yet know how to do this.

We have to innovate an entirely new approach to public goods that is adequate to the challenging set of problems posed by anthro-complexity. We really don’t know how to do this.

Finally, we have to come to terms with the real nature of technology, the difficult to predict feedback loops of how we affect technology and how it affects us. And then we have to figure out how to navigate the actual consequences of exponential technology — on ourselves and on our lived world. Most people aren’t even prepared to think about how to do this.


The bottom line is that digital technologies are quickly doing away with the traditional hit-paradigm of “it must be huge to be successful” (and merit my attention) that was a default principle until just five years ago. Now you can publish your music and — provided you can get people’s attention — you can sell direct from your bedroom or parents’ garage.

Granted, the numbers are not large yet, and it won’t merit a Fortune 500 company CFO’s attention, but more and more bands are starting to “get it” and are flocking to places on the edge of the network rather than trying to be in the center. Re- member, that’s what it all used to be about: Get onto MTV, play at Glastonbury, get on the cover of Rolling Stone. In other words: be in the center, be famous, be huge — or be toast. Rolls- Royce or bicycles.

Now, a whole new possibility opens up for artists and small labels: Life on the edge of the network is, indeed, economically doable. And in a few years, it may be lucrative, too. Niche markets can work. The much-lauded Long Tail in digital media makes it possible.

Ultimately, of course, people will consume, or shall we say, use more media (music) all the time, but the real limiting factor is people’s time. Simply put, all of the world’s music (and its creators) will be competing for attention in this new ecosystem, and everyone will want a piece of your precious time. That will be the real challenge going forward: getting exposure and being

While, conceptually, I like and support the “everybody can be a publisher, composer, or writer” idea, deep down I have a hunch that so few people are actually gifted in these fields, and, personally, those are the ones I would want to hear and see, not the countless others who are just maybe of interest in their brightest moments. Who has the time?

I think that the pain of selling music the good old way (i.e., by the “unit,” whether online or offline) will become so severe that most incumbents will simply waive most currently mandatory must-have’s and finally throw their holy cows (such as licensing anything in MP3 format, or maintaining territorial restrictions) into the digital meat-grinder, and will start heading for greener pastures, in droves.

getting digital attention

Tomorrow’s music companies (yes, let’s forget about mere record companies) must figure out how they will get their tracks into any and all of these new digital channels, and just how exactly they will get the user to pay attention to their artists rather than the latest Grand Theft Auto videogame, a hot Terminator #37 preview, the latest streaming footage from the Paris-Dakar rally, or some breaking news from the stock market.

The question is not if the industry needs to make its catalogs available, nor how much a track should cost, but just how the world’s consumers will even find them, and how artists and their modern-day representatives can get and retain the attention of that perfectly matched customer. Once this all-important attention is secured, the way into the wallet is cleared.


exposure and discovery always lead to revenues

Exposure and discovery are the main mileposts on the digital highway of the future: The issue is not how much the “user” should pay before he gets to discover an artist but how much it will cost the music company to effect that exposure in the first place — and then, of course, how to convert it into real dollars!



1. the advent of the usators

“Usators” describes the concept of users becoming creators, users who are not just receivers but also senders, of one-way monologs becoming conversations. Some of those People Formerly Known As Users or Consumers are now becoming (co)-creators, too. What’s more, the context they are creating is itself becoming content.

As evidenced in the recent developments at YouTube, Flickr, Pandora,, LinkedIn and a good many of the latest so-called Web 2.0 ventures, many consumers of digital media are no longer just receivers — they may also become senders or re-senders of content. This phenomenon, of course, has vast consequences for broadcast media. Radio and TV will never be the same. Consequently, the very definition of “content” — and yes, the underlying copyright mantra — is changing, too; being creative seems to be no longer reserved for expert producers, a.k.a. professionals.

In a way, it feels like the emergent “art” of tagging, book-marking, collaborative filtering, and online profiling is becoming just another type of content, one that would obviously not even exist without the users being part of the system to begin with. Media is now also turning two-way, interactive, and non- linear, with many new gradients that surface between being a “producer” and being a consumer — and “also” is crucial word here since these developments are not really replacing Media 1.0 as we know it; rather, these are shaping up to be additional options for the user, making for a larger menu to feast on and severely cutting into the advertising revenues of “old media,”

The result: Content is king, but since “content” now also includes the user as content — in other words, the usators’ added- value creations — we are facing a circular debate here,

The bottom line is: You must engage your users the best you can, and turn them into yet another tier of content, and you will do well.

2. distributed selection is around the corner

Now, in parallel and as virtual adjuncts to the professionals, the users and usators can also be the ones who decide on what’s hot or not: slick new user rating tools, digital reputation schemes, tagging, bookmark sharing, and blogging in general all drive this new trend higher and higher.

While I may not entirely subscribe to the “wisdom of masses” theory (in music, in particular), I do see solid value in averaging user ratings and tags — after all, this is how companies such as Gracenote have created a huge pool of very powerful data.

Many of the what I call “next-generation music companies” will be based on the belief that giving the users more power means that they will give it right back to you, in form of loyalty, support, and attention (i.e., cash). In the very near future, these newcos will use public rating and tagging tools, and “conversation-metering,” to find out what’s out there, where, and why, rather than trying to tell the listeners what they think they should pay attention to.

New artists and bands will be “born and raised” on digital networks and on the corresponding streets, stages, and venues around the world.

3. getting attention, not distribution, is what matters

Having Distribution (or, in radio, a frequency slot, or owning a cable or a wireless network) is no longer a big deal. But being good at getting, retaining, and converting attention is. We are finding ourselves being catapulted into a world that is no longer based on content or on distribution, but on an ecosystem built around content that is already distributed by default. In a way, we may have come full circle, back to what it used to be before there was any way to record and mass-distribute media: The experience is what really matters, the meaning,

Marketing is therefore evolving into “attentioneering.” New companies will pop up that will have their ears to the ground, and that will help “the creatives,” the media producers and owners, to reach their users/usators by snagging their attention at the right time and in the right place. It’s not far-fetched to think that media companies and creators will actually pay people to pay attention to them, i.e., users will get paid to download a track, watch a movie, and play a game. Download our music, talk to us, and we will give you a lot of good stuff for free.

4. mass markets morph into a mass of niche markets

In the future, while we will likely still have mega-stars of some sort, the days of ubiquitous, global, and long-lasting media dominators such as the Beatles, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones are long gone. The world has simply become more complex than that, and more options means fewer mass-mar- ket hits.

In my opinion, this development is due to a lack of good artists, as is often alleged; and it’s simply a cultural trend driven by technology — having more choices has unchained diversity, and therefore the dollars are spent more evenly.

5. media is a two-way conversation

The media of the future is not the monolog passed down by the über-wardens of Hollywood; it’s not a sermon delivered from above; rather, it’s a conversation. It’s no longer all top- down, centrally served, dispensed-on-a-schedule, wrapped in remote-access-control-as-we-see-fit software. It may not even be A&R’ed, either. It’s simply Media of the future is not just from “me the producer” to “you the consumer.” It’s also an interactive process, an ongoing, two-way conversation, not a stale and linear product. And who can pirate (as in “steal”) a process? Who could steal conversations? Going forward, media companies are not just creators of content but also conversation curators, offering platforms for exchanges. This may mean that soon the term “broadcasting” becomes as meaningless as the term “record company.”

7. marketing 2.0

The burden is now on the media itself, i.e., what we create must be found worthy, and what we offer must have real merit. It’s no longer the consumer who is subjected to artificial scarcity mechanisms such as record distribution, or some default advertising programs that he or she has to suffer through. Users and usators are no longer targeted with weapons of mass advertising; rather, they now decide and tell us what they want to receive, whom they may “allow to find” them.

In fact, as evident in much of the old-style, quasi-military advertising lingo (“targeting, penetration rate, launching a campaign…”), we must now no longer assume that we need to conquer the customer, to nail him while we can, to get his attention and squash him into submission — i.e., get him to buy something he probably doesn’t need. This old view of media has all too often been the idea of the customer as some kind of elusive enemy who needs to be pounced on the very moment we can see him.

As mass media collides with personal media, it won’t mean that mass media will cease to exist. Underline this with your magic markers: Mass media won’t end; it just won’t grow as much as it used to. The real opportunity for serious growth is in the niches. Mass media will take a bit of a paradigm-change- induced beating, temporarily, but then quickly incorporate

mass media to personal media

• media = a product you buy • tv as dominant force • anglo-american ‘hits’ dominate • on schedule • one-way ‘broadcasts’ • consume

• media = a service you subscribe to • web as dominant force • diverse/niche content works thrives • anytime • receiver also sends • participate/usate