We’ve all heard of the “sharing economy” and the “gig economy,” app-driven services such as Uber and Airbnb that have radically altered transportation, travel, and an infinite number of other business sectors.
But are you ready for the “intimacy economy”? That’s economist and media-studies professor Glenn Platt’s term for the ways in which the internet and connectivity are shrinking the distance between performer and audience, producer and consumer, and celebrity and fan.
“When I talk about the intimacy economy, I’m talking about this growing category of successful business models that are built on one-to-one relationships and experiences that are personal, authentic, and unscripted,” explains Platt, the founder and director of the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) at Miami University of Ohio.
He points to an example involving Craig Finn, best-known as the frontman for the indie rock band The Hold Steady. As a way to raise money for his latest album and tour, Finn set up a crowd-funded pledge drive through which fans could sign up to download the album or have it shipped early. The really interesting thing, though, were the higher-level offerings for funders, says Platt. These included paying a couple of hundred dollars to go record shopping with him in New York. “Here you are, a music fan,” he says, “and [Finn] is willing to go record-shopping with you. You’re getting to do the equivalent of going to church with one of your rock-and-roll heroes….It’s different than saying, If you pay extra, you’re going to get an autographed picture.”
In a wide-ranging conversation about technology and disruption, Platt tells Reason’s Nick Gillespie how the intimacy economy will revolutionize not only business but also political and cultural practices. In a world where mass personalization and individualization is the new normal, the intimacy economy provides a bold new way of thinking about the future of interactive media.
Produced by Ian Keyser.
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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: Hi, this is Nick Gillespie and this is the Reason podcast. Please Subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you’re there. Today we’re talking with Glenn Platt. He’s the C. Michael Armstrong professor of interactive media studies and the founding director of the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies at Miami University. Glenn thanks for joining us.
Glenn Platt: Hey Nick.
Nick Gillespie: Let’s talk about this concept of the intimacy economy that you’ve talked about. I’ve actually used it in a couple of articles that I’ve written at Reason and elsewhere. What do you mean when you talk about the intimacy economy and why is it so important?
Glenn Platt: Sure, when I talk about the intimacy economy what I’m talking about is this is a growing category of successful business models that are built on one to one relationships and experiences, that are personal. authentic and unscripted. And so we’re starting to see more and more of the non stylized relationships and I say “brands” here because I come from a business perspective. But, really, when I say “brands” we’re talking about celebrities, we’re talking about if any … I don’t know, institution of the third kind that normally interacts with people in a one to many fashion.
Nick Gillespie: Right, or in a bureaucratic way. So, let’s put a little flesh on this definition of an intimate discussion. What’s an example of an individual, or a person, or a celebrity, or a star who in the past would have just said like, “Hey come to my concert.” Or something. Or, “I’m going to do a live telecast.” And now they’re acting in a one to one fashion. What’s an example of that?
Glenn Platt: Sure, I think it’s great that your brought up music. Music is where I think we’re seeing these models get adopted faster than we are in other industries. We’re starting to see it in other places and I think we can come back to this issue because I think there’s a reason music is easier for this writer. I think there are things that are wrong with the music industry in a structured way that it’s always historically worked, and that monopolies have controlled it. And so, but an example of that would be Craig Finn who was lead singer of The Hold Steady. A great talking about Jersey bands. So, a great band. As a way to fund his most recent album he did a PledgeMusic campaign where you could sign up and get the download of album and get the album shipped to you. But there were a higher level of rewards that you could get along with that which included for, I think it was a couple of hundred dollars, you could you could go record shopping in New York City.
Nick Gillespie: And did you have to get there and then he would do it, or did the pledge cover the cost of that?
Glenn Platt: No, you had to get out. But I’ve seen other PledgeMusic campaigns where like they do living room concerts and that kind of thing and in that case it includes travel and are multi-thousand dollar].
Nick Gillespie: So, an artist and somebody with a sizable backing typically will say, “If you give me this much money while I’m working on this larger project …” That’s like a Kickstarter type thing or a crowdfunding. “I will do something specific for you.”
Glenn Platt: Right. And I think it’s more than just specific. It’s the thing that he’s doing there that I think it’s also really compelling, that he’s going to go record shopping. So, here you are a music fan, clearly, right? You love the band you’re willing to spend extra money and you get to do the act that is the equivalent of going to church with someone who’s one of your rock and roll heroes. And so it’s the thing you’re doing, it’s the fact that you’re doing it with him. It’s different than saying, “Well, gosh, if you pay extra money you’re going to get a special autographed picture.” It’s beyond that.
Nick Gillespie: So this is not like a PBS pledge drive where it’s you give a $1000, Garrison Keillor will … He’ll autograph a bag for you. It’s more like Garrison Keillor will come over and cut your grass and wash your dishes, But not even really, right?
Glenn Platt: He would talk with you and figure out a way to tell a story about your family history because he’s bringing his expertise and his domain to your world and personal lives.
Nick Gillespie: Are these experiences … And I want to go to other examples that I know that you’ve thought about, but with something like that, is that act, that individual interaction, is that automatically captured and preserved for other people or is part of it that it’s a hidden … It’s a one on one that the recipient can either share or not.
Glenn Platt: I think it’s actually necessary, in fact, that it’s not only hidden but then it’s temporal in nature. As I’ve been structuring this idea of the intimacy economy and what makes it unique I think that’s one of the important features for, this temporality of it. You can think about it as the Snapchat world. This idea that for something to be authentic and real it can’t be structured for display. The display may be a secondary act but the primary nature of it is that it’s an experience. It’s a thing that happens.
Nick Gillespie: And so that … My background is in teen magazines, and one of the great features …
Glenn Platt: That’s not creepy at all.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, well, I was in my 20s. So, most jurisdictions I was okay. But we always used to run “Win a date with our Kirk Cameron.” “Win a date with Michael J. Fox, with John Stamos.” The.
Glenn Platt: Win a date with Todd Hamilton, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Nick Gillespie: That’s right. And but that’s that’s different because that’s fundamentally a product. First off it is meant to be on public display. It’s highly scripted and it’s really being controlled by the apparatus that controls the star as opposed to the individual actor. It’s not … It would’ve been the record label, or the movie studio as opposed to the artist himself.
Glenn Platt: Yeah this is very much a shift in power and control that way. I think you’re spot on there. That these other personal experiences, if I could … There be a way to say air quotes when you’re doing broadcast, here. These personal experiences really nothing more than just structured marketing campaigns. No different than a billboard or something like that. These are ones that are …The intimacy economy, the conversation gets driven by the customer. By the by the user and I hate that phrase but that’s the one that you hear people talk about. It’s on their terms it’s they’re dictating the pace, and the theme, and the topics. And then the celebrity in some sense is responding and that’s what makes it so authentic.
Nick Gillespie: So, what are other examples of intimacy economy exchanges?
Glenn Platt: Well Periscope and Facebook Live are tailor made platforms for this kind of thing. You can’t throw a rock at Periscope, I think, without hitting some really interesting examples of this intimacy economy because if you think about that definition I just said, like unscripted, authentic, temporal. That is what technology is designed to support. And so when you see certain celebrities on Periscope, for example, thinking locally here. I saw in Periscope, John Green the teen author.
Nick Gillespie: Right, who was based in Indianapolis I think, or around Indianapolis, as the guy who wrote “The Fault in our Stars” and “Paper Towns” and is quite a …
Glenn Platt: I feel like we’ve got this theme here about teen stuff that’s going on here.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, well, yeah. All right.
Glenn Platt: We should steer from. So, John here … So, Indianapolis is just around the corner from where we are right now. All right. And so following him on Periscope and I got the notification he was live and I flipped over to check it out and he’s sitting in the Indianapolis airport waiting for his plane in the terminal that I recognize, in the in the crappy vinyl seats that I’ve sat in and he’s talking about waiting for the plane in a very non … Not just non-scripted. In a way that it’s almost mundane. The mundaneness of these exchanges, in some sense, is what makes them so powerful. It’s beyond simply … I think you’d be tempted to say, “Well, this is just a way that they can show they’re human too. They put their pants on one likes at a time but it’s not that. It’s more of like … The best way I can think of this is Being John Malkovich.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, the movie. Yeah.
Glenn Platt: I love, and when I talk to people about the intimacy economy I reference it, and if they haven’t seen it see that movie. It’s fabulous movie. But the notion of that was you went to this little door and you were inside John Malkovich’s head and you saw what he saw. You felt what he did and how much of that was like him eating hamburgers and him walking around. Periscope and Facebook Live are that. They’re being John Malkovich.
Nick Gillespie: Right, most of the time you’re watching it on your phone and so you’re holding it close. The person fills the screen, it is a very kind of direct, unmediated feeling experience.
Glenn Platt: Yeah, completely, and this is a bit of a distraction from the point of this conversation, but I think Periscope is also supremely powerful in connecting us with non-celebrities.
Nick Gillespie: Right.
Glenn Platt: Last night, I was on and sometimes I sort of have an intent to it, other times I just kinda of browse around and see who’s on and I’m really just struck by the idea that there’s … Last night there was some people in Japan and they were eating at a ramen restaurant and it was happening in real time and I’m watching it along with maybe five other people, right? Because I think the scale here, as you mentioned, is important, and I’m there, in a sense, like I can feel that. Now in the case of a brand or celebrity, that’s a powerful connection. Like for any of us who’s ever tweeted to a company or to a celebrity and had them like it, just even like it, let alone reply to you, there’s that hook, there’s that connection. As soon as that happens it’s like, “Woah.”
Nick Gillespie: You know that idea of maybe mundaneness or everyday behavior is fascinating and it reminds me of when Periscope came out as an early adapter and, to be honest, I’ve gotten bored with it … But I follow Snoop Dogg and I have insomnia and at one point, it was like three o’clock in the morning on the East Coast, it was like midnight, he was just getting up in L.A. or the L.B.C., but it was Snoop Dogg and three or four of his friends just smoking a huge amount of pot and talking to the camera and in front of the camera and it was like, “Holy shit.”
There’s a new documentary out about how Carey Grant did LSD. You can’t imagine a world in which Carey Grant would do LSD on Periscope in a way that you could totally see … I mean I suspect that half of the Supreme Court is on LSD all the time, anyway, but certainly a Miley Cyrus or a Snoop Dogg or somebody tripping. With that, although it was funny with the Snoop Dogg thing, he was like in his rumpus room. He wasn’t outdoors and he wasn’t really being showy, but what’s another example of an intimacy economy exchange?
Glenn Platt: I’ll give you on more Periscope example and then I want to shift to a more broader set of examples, but like Gary Vaynerchuck is a genius at Periscope.
Nick Gillespie: And he’s a business marketing distribution kind of brand building doer.
Glenn Platt: Right, doer, author. He’s got a recent book; Jab, Jab, something, it’s a boxing metaphor. He is religiously on Periscope and when you see him get on, he needs a shave, he’s in the cab going on the way to some speaking engagement. He looks like maybe he just woke up, he’s talking about something that he thinks is interesting.
Nick Gillespie: So he basically is doing a real life version of The Blair Witch Project?
Glenn Platt: Yeah, somewhere between that and EDtv, I think. Somewhere between those two.
Nick Gillespie: I’m sorry to interrupt, but one of … A recent staffer, Tom Kramen, who’s a videographer, is actually in EDtv.
Glenn Platt: Really?
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, he was an actor at a previous life.
Glenn Platt: That’s insane.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah.
Glenn Platt: Is that Ron Howard, I think?
Nick Gillespie: It is. Yeah, it was Ron Howard and Matthew McConaughey and, of course, Clint Howard because Clint and Ron worked as a team. So it’s somewhere between The Blair Witch Project and EDtv. What do people get out of seeing Gary Vaynderchuck unshaven or kind of moping around or, you know, getting places?
Glenn Platt: So this is one of the big things I want to talk about here today. There is a deep, profound dissatisfaction with feeling as if you are being manipulated by the marketing machine, by the man, by social media, whatever you want to-
Nick Gillespie: The hidden persuader, that’s a backwards term from the 50s.
Glenn Platt: There is a sense that, you know, that we are being programmed, right? That’s sort of the and so the opportunity to be involved with, you know, the people, the thought leaders you’re fascinated by, the brands that you love and know that this isn’t something that was a bunch of producers set up for quote on quote reality TV, even though we all know that’s not real, right? Or, you know, the Facebook friends who have totally perfect lives because of course they do, right? We all know is also positioning and mediating, right? It is and sort of a great theme of this book is intermediation. It’s getting these things out of the middle that pervert and distort the relationship and the authenticity of that and so the appeal is just the realness of it, that you know it-
Nick Gillespie: So authenticity is a key and do you feel … At least going back to the romantic poets and writers and musicians of the 19th century, it seems like authenticity has been one of the key dimensions or characteristics of what we crave in our cultural lives, maybe our economic lives, maybe our political lives. You know, one of the things that people will grant about Trump, even Trump haters, is that he seems to be real.
Glenn Platt: Absolutely, you hear that all the time.
Nick Gillespie: So are we in an age where we are craving more authenticity than ever because of all the fabricated stuff? Or is it that we finally have the technology or the kind of systems where we can actually be more authentic?
Glenn Platt: That’s a really good question. I think both. I think the lack of authenticity hasn’t changed, I mean in the 1950s, we were getting played just as much as we’re getting played today. I don’t think Facebook somehow allows for it to happen more.
Nick Gillespie: I think a lot of that in the 50s, has think a lot about the beats, beatniks, and as well as folk music was seen as a way of getting around. That it was real and, of course, what’s always interesting is that folk music, as it was put forth was totally a marketing campaign done by Madison Avenue and New York labels and, ironically, they put down rock ‘n’ roll as phony and fake and as plastic music because it came from regional labels and whatnot.
Glenn Platt: And Malcolm McLaren. Punk music, supposedly, was the same sort of reaction by the fact-
Nick Gillespie: It’s a new ploy of marketing. Although, in the end … Well let’s get to whether or not we get out of this kind of merry-go-round of authenticity as a marketing ploy or not. Is there another … Did you want to give another example that’s non Periscope?
Glenn Platt: I did, only because I think those are both examples I think most of your listeners probably are not [crigson 00:16:06] followers or following John on Periscope. Even in Twitter relationships … So Delta, for example … Delta will respond to every single tweet, every tweet. If you tweeted Delta right now, I think it’s Delta Assist, with a question, a problem, I’m late for my flight I want to tote, whatever. They will respond to every single one of those and I know you can say, “Well, couldn’t you call a 1-800 number and get someone to respond?” But it’s a little different, there’s the brevity of it, there’s the immediacy, you’re sort of in moment when it’s happening. I don’t know if you follow Wendy’s lately on Twitter-
Nick Gillespie: You know what, about a year ago, I stopped eating meat and a couple years before that, I stopped eating Wendy’s so no. But when does-
Glenn Platt: That doesn’t make them any less entertaining.
Nick Gillespie: This is the Wendy’s corporate Twitter account?
Glenn Platt: Yeah, the Wendy’s corporate Twitter account is brilliant, just brilliant, and it has a personality to itself that becomes the reason you’re engaging. You’re following this because it’s the attitude that they at least want you to associate with the brand. So two examples of things they’ve done recently: one which made a bit of news last week … So Wendy’s, like I said, is well known for having this kinda of attitude Twitter presence, and so someone tweeted at them, “Hey, how many retweets would I have to get to get free nuggets for the rest of my life?” Or, “For the rest of the year?” I think it was, free nuggets for a year. And so the person running the campaign said, “18 million.” Which is, I don’t know, five times more than any retweet … Ellen DeGeneres holds the record for most amount of retweets for that picture that … the selfie-
Nick Gillespie: The selfie at the Oscars.
Glenn Platt: And the person was like, “Challenge accepted.” And then Wendy’s helped promote this person’s campaign to just get this one tweet retweet which recently did sort of surpass the record and then other people started giving this person, actually, rewards too. Wendy’s gave them a free year of nuggets early on and other people started giving him other things.
The other example I really like from Wendy’s twitter account: they get into these Twitter battles with other burger presences and so Arby’s said something about how they were better ’cause they had four for four dollars instead of five for five, or whatever it was, the difference between the two. And Wendy’s was like, “Yeah, but we were the first to have this kind of a deal.” Some sort of reference like that, and Arby’s said, “Yeah, but, you know, ours is better ’cause it’s cheaper.” Some sort of … And then Wendy’s came back with this great burn that was like … Oh, ’cause they said they were the fourth person to actually have that kind of deal, and so Wendy’s said, “Tell us the fourth person who walked on the moon. Do it now. Don’t Google it.” It’s just a like, screw you, kind of thing.
Nick Gillespie: Right.
Glenn Platt: So these brands, they become sort of like people on Twitter, the ones that we follow, and we picture a person and we talk to them and speak to them as if they are people.
Nick Gillespie: So this sounds a lot like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, where the new gods are the passions and the sources of power and influence. So forget Zeus and Hera, we’re looking at Wendy’s versus Arby’s?
Glenn Platt: I think that’s one category. The other one that I do want to talk about at some point here today, are YouTube celebrities. These new gods, these new celebrities in the intimacy economy, are not the Wendy’s of the world. They’re-
Nick Gillespie: They’re PewDiePie, they’re CaptainSparklez, they’re individuals.
Glenn Platt: They’re individuals, that if you talked to anyone of the age of 25 … the tope five YouTube celebrities, in terms of money made from advertising revenues, millionaires. PewDiePie, Roman Atwood, Louis Sings, Smosh, Tyler Oakley. These are names, that if you spoke … Actually, I think my wife would have no idea who any of these people were.
Nick Gillespie: And it’s funny, ’cause I read a story about a year and a half ago. We were talking internet stuff and I was like, “Here are the Johnny Carsons of the internet.” And it was some of the people that you mentioned, some of them from Vine, which I guess is gone, and Twitter and whatnot, or Instagram. And it’s funny ’cause if you talk to anybody under the age of about 40 in America, nobody would know who Johnny Carson was or Red Skelton or Milton Berle, right it’s this interesting kind of shift that’s just epochal or generational.
Glenn Platt: It is, but I want to offer you as more than that because, I think you could argue that David Letterman, say for our generation, was a shift.
Nick Gillespie: Right.
Glenn Platt: I don’t think of PewDiePie as being the next David Letterman. What he does, what these people do is different because that was still display, it was still produced, it was still teams of writers, right? If you were a Letterman writer, that was your ticket to-
Nick Gillespie: Oh god, every college grad … or at least boy college graduate from about 1979 until the 1988 wanted to go work for Letterman.
Glenn Platt: And nobody is a writer for Tyler Oakley. These people … it’s about being in their bedrooms and their living rooms, and not in a creepy way, in just … I think that the younger generation craves the authenticity of that relationship, and it’s not that they’re not celebrities, they’re totally celebrities, but the minute … And I would argue PewDiePie has had his 15 minutes because he is already getting coopted, right? They’re talking about movies and as soon as they make a movie, it’s over. He’s done.
Nick Gillespie: Let me ask you, what is the role of somebody like Howard Stern? And we’re talking, we’re taping a podcast here in Oxford, Ohio using … Between us, we probably have, not maybe $1,000 worth of computer equipment or $2,000 on the table, a microphone and two notebooks. So part of this is technological but somebody like Howard Stern was always definitely the most radio host. He engaged both his audience, he brought fans into his studio, et cetera. Who are the kind of premonitions of the intimacy economy before that? ‘Cause he’s always worked for a mega corporation, he’s not a do-it-yourself guy. He is the reason why XM Sirius exists but the way he talked was really different than, you know, say a Don Imus, or other radio guys.
Glenn Platt: That’s a good question.
Nick Gillespie: And it was a lot about his everyday life, I mean how much … Is it kind of confessional narcissism gone global or is it something different?
Glenn Platt: It’s confessional but not in a salacious way, I think. It’s just in a dropping of pretense. You know, and maybe it’s just because I have the attention span of a gnat, but like I just go back to David Letterman, maybe it’s just ’cause we said it but I think he could have been a predecessor to that. He went out on the street, he would pull people off of the street and talk to them. So it was a little bit of that kind of unscripted, you didn’t know what was going to happen and you felt that, as much as there was a script to events that happen, maybe they don’t follow it.
Nick Gillespie: So, the unscripted nature of it and the individualized nature of it seemed to be really important, and the unscripted goes towards the authenticity, the individual … You know, one of the themes that we read a lot about at reason, and I think is on target or is onto something, is the idea of, we call it the libertarian moment, but the idea of individualization of personalization is gigantic now. You know, you want things with your name on them, and you could get monogram shit going back to King Alfred the Great and all that and then through L.L. Bean or Lands End or whatever you can get a towel with whatever you want on it. But when you go to an Amazon, when you go into various stores now, you want something that is offered up based on your taste, your desires.
And that’s true in our personal lives, Facebook isn’t quite there but now they have 50 or 57 genders, they have more genders or sexual orientations and there are flavors at Baskin-Robbins and we want that. And you can go to Baskin-Robbins and say, “Give me half a scoop of this and half a scoop of that.” 50 years ago, they’d be like, “Look you can get chocolate or strawberry or vanilla and you can get the fuck out.” So, I guess, what I’m asking is the intimacy economy, the way you’re talking about it, is it part of a larger trend in society? And what then, I guess, is driving that? It’s a need for authenticity for realness, for individual exchange. Why are we so hyped up on that now?
Glenn Platt: So, let me talk about both sides of the coin in response to that. So, in some sense, it’s the intimacy economy is born out of the trend that you’re describing. For the last ten years, there’s been a movement towards mass customization, liked you talked about the equivalent of monogramming things. The idea that Amazon can predict what you want next and even more recently, these Trump club type companies, right, that send you the clothes you want before you want them.
Nick Gillespie: Where it’s a … What is the term? They’re curating.
Glenn Platt: Yes.
Nick Gillespie: With those, they don’t curate on the individual level though, do they? Or I guess maybe they do-
Glenn Platt: They do. They claim they do.
Nick Gillespie: Okay, so it’s not just like, “Hey, here’s our box. Here’s our Birchbox of stuff that we think is interesting, that our subscribers will like.” It’s, “Glenn Platt, you have bought this sorts of stuff or you gave a questionnaire.” And then they’ll say like, “Okay, because we know you wear glasses, here’s clips that go over that, that are sunglasses.”
Glenn Platt: “And we know the color glasses you have.”
Nick Gillespie: Yeah.
Glenn Platt: Absolutely, right? So I think there’s been a trend that way but I would argue the intimacy economy is, at the same time, a reaction to that. That this sort of very big data driven, “We can predict what you want.” And you know, Amazon … Not even Amazon, sort of, Amazon started this all, but I think Facebook is probably on the frontier of it where you can run a campaign on Facebook and target it like with laser-like precision. “I want left handed people who gave money to Planned Parenthood last month and drive a Chevy Volt.” And there was a great promise of that for the reason that you spoke of, this idea that what if large organizations could sort of slice and dice and deliver individual things to people and technology and this is what I want to emphasize. I think technology, supposedly, was going to solve that. Right now, the hot thing in digital marketing, digital business, is bots. I don’t know how much you’ve read up on bots.
Nick Gillespie: I think bots were the only people who turned out in the 2016 election.
Glenn Platt: Well, there’s the dumb bots, like that, right, which are these presences on-
Nick Gillespie: Wait, you’re calling the voters dumb bots?
Glenn Platt: (Laughter)
Nick Gillespie: As a person in an ivory tower with your fancy, interactive media studies.
Glenn Platt: And that was the follow up. But then there’s these pretty sophisticated bots now, you can sign up for … That will talk to you … I mean, they’re A.I. driven, so they’ll talk to you and react to you and have conversations and brands have been experimenting really poorly with them. There’s the sort of Coca-Cola Mein Kampf story and other bad examples of it happening.
Nick Gillespie: As a bad example, that was kind of great. And explain that because people have probably already forgotten, but it is hilarious.
Glenn Platt: Yeah, so, Coca-Cola had a bot that was going to respond to people. I think it was talking about the things that made their life better or something like that, and I think it was the folks at Gawker, figured out how they could troll it by making it repeat Mein Kampf line for line.
Nick Gillespie: And I think it was 24 or 48 hours, it had turned into a neo-Nazi.
Glenn Platt: Yeah, and Microsoft had a similar experience too, right? They did the same thing, but these-
Nick Gillespie: I kind of like that phenomenon. I realize it’s not quite the intimacy economy, it’s more the kind of tournament of fair play thing. I love whenever celebrities put something out there and they ask a question and then the first 50 comments inevitably are like, “Fuck off and die.” But when Bill Cosby, after he was starting to be unmasked as, allegedly, as a serial assaulter, he put out Twitter campaign of like, “What should I do next?” Or whatever.
Glenn Platt: (Laughs) Of course. You know where that’s gonna go.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, it’s just very, very funny.
Glenn Platt: Yeah, McDonald’s had a campaign like, “Tell us your favorite McDonald’s moment.” So you know how that’s gonna go.
Nick Gillespie: But now doesn’t that get immediately recuperated into … Like with A.I. bots maybe it’s thinking about shows like Westworld or Ex Machina. I mean like, you know that an A.I. bot is kind of tweaking you a little bit in the direction of selling the brand, right?
Glenn Platt: Yeah, and that’s why I say I think this diverges from that. I think we all were on the same page that gosh, people want something that’s unique to them, they want to feel connected, they want an individual relationship and somehow, industry has now taken that into this Westworld step and people hate it.
Nick Gillespie: Right.
Glenn Platt: Like the bots and A.I.’s, people don’t. You can read the research on this that they know when they’re talking to one and they don’t like it unless there’s some transactional benefit they immediately get. Like they can get their refund from it or something like that. And so the intimacy-
Nick Gillespie: Or maybe some humor and, I guess, the Wendy’s accounts bots per say but … Yeah, right.
Glenn Platt: No, but I think that’s the difference because the intimacy … These real relationships are in complete opposition to this, because you know you’re not getting this because you are a white male living in Arlington, Virginia. You’re having this conversation because someone immediately reacted and responded to what you said and the difference between those two things is like night and day to people, even though marketing agencies see them as identical. I see those two things … Like, oh great, we can have an A.I. do something a person used to do. Those aren’t the same things.
Nick Gillespie: How though, if you need people to do it and, I guess this is more of an economic question, how do you scale up the intimacy economy? Or is that the point, you really can’t scale it up?
Glenn Platt: Yeah, you really can’t. I think that is the point. Gary Vaynerchuck is a great example, he just doesn’t sleep. I saw a talk he gave where he talks about how he and his social media has a wine presence as well, wine company. He says, “How many fucking times a day I’ve got to tell people what wine goes with fish. People ask me this hundreds and hundreds of time.” And he has to answer that same question over and over and that (Laughs)
Nick Gillespie: But is he going to become like Ricky Nelson and refuse to play his old hits? At some point he’s like, “I’m done, I’m not answering anymore questions about wine and fish.”?
Glenn Platt: I hope not.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah.
Glenn Platt: “Cause at that point, you become the PewDiePie who does the movie.
Nick Gillespie: Right.
Glenn Platt: This only works when you do. This only works when you feel he’s answering that question immediately.
Nick Gillespie: So these celebrities, Tyler Cowen, the economist, is like George Mason, wrote a great book called What Price Fame? almost twenty years ago, where he said “In modern day, in the modern economy, celebrities are puppets that we kind of abuse for our pleasure.” And is this what’s going to happen to some of these intimacy economy people? Like we will chew them up and Gary Vaynderchuck with blow his brains out or will sleep the big sleep finally. I suppose he’ll overdose on Ambien, that would be the right way for him to go.
Glenn Platt: Right.
Nick Gillespie: And then we go on to the next one.
Glenn Platt: I hope not, right? I hope not. I actually talked to the Craig Finn about that PledgeMusic campaign and I asked him, “Would you do it again?” And he was like, “Well some of the rewards I would and some I wouldn’t. Some, it was just too hard.”
Nick Gillespie: Was he the guy your wife, Trisha, who also helped you come up with, like refine this concept … Was that the one she got to sing along with? Tell that story because that’s-
Glenn Platt: Different PledgeMusic examples. Yeah, no that was Duncan Sheik.
Nick Gillespie: Okay.
Glenn Platt: So Duncan Sheik, yeah, we did a backing kind of deal and we could come to the concert early and then he played a little acoustic set like sitting in the dressing room for us and he asker her to sing along with him, which was a pinnacle moment for her fandom. And actually, just last week, I get brownie points I hope for this, it was our anniversary, and so I had done a PledgeMusic campaign for Ken Stringfellow, do you know the Posies? Right?
Nick Gillespie: Oh, okay. Yeah.
Glenn Platt: So Ken Stringfellow is one of the two main song writers for the posies and Patricia’s a huge Posies fan and so I had backed an album of his and the reward I got was that he would call you up … I’m trying to remember, it was like leave a voicemail message for you or something like that. But anyway, I wrote him and I said, “Hey, how about instead of that, could you call my wife on our anniversary and just talk with her? I think that would really a big deal.”
Nick Gillespie: By the way, I just want to say that’s kind of creepy but-
Glenn Platt: (Laughs)
Nick Gillespie: You know, like, “Honey, it’s your celebrity crush. It’s the rockstar you really want to fuck
Glenn Platt: It’s a little weird now that you put it that way.
Nick Gillespie: Maybe for her, for you, it might be like there’s a whole cuckold seen, that’s a different intimacy kind of … Well, speaking of … because it always comes back to teen magazines for me … we had a contest, this would have been for a magazine called, I think Teen Machine, maybe ’86, ’87, ’88, where you could win a phone call from Alf, the TV puppet and the actor who played Alf.
Glenn Platt: That’s really weirdly simulacrum … So the puppet is going to call you?
Nick Gillespie: That’s right. And in a shockingly bizarre … I have this long running theory that we’re living in Philip K. Dick novel and I’m always trying to remember what was the moment that broke the space time continuum and put us into The Man in the High Castle alternate reality and maybe it was this. I had rigged the contest so that a friend of mine got a call from Alf and as it happened, it was like eight months before, I was visiting that friend and we were sitting down for family dinner with him and the phone rang and his father was like, “Oh, fuck it. Who’s calling? Don’t answer it.” And his mother was like, “Oh, shut up.” And she picked up the phone and it was fucking Alf on the phone.
Glenn Platt: (Laughs) That’s great.
Nick Gillespie: And she was like, “Jimmy, Alf’s on the phone for you.” And he was like, “Who? I don’t know anybody named Alf.”
Glenn Platt: She doesn’t know?
Nick Gillespie: She has no idea, so she gives him the phone and it’s like, “Hey, Jim. How you doing? I just had a meal of cats.” Or, you know, whatever. And so we all got to talk to Alf for about 30 minutes so maybe that was the moment where we entered a Philip K. Dick novel.
Glenn Platt: Yeah, yeah, it could be. Now you made me think maybe this was a creepy present.
Nick Gillespie: (Laughs)
Glenn Platt: She said, “At first it was weird because it was like, what do you say to him?” And then once they broke past that, it just become like … She asked him about her favorite songs. “What does that … I don’t even know what that song is about.” And he told the story about a friend of his was trying to beat heroine and it was a story about that, and then in a truly unscripted moment, he was in the studio recording, actually, in Paris and so he’s calling from the studio on Skype and he played a song for her. He did her favorite song on his guitar and twisted, apparently, the lyrics to say, “Happy Anniversary” somewhere in it.
Nick Gillespie: That’s great.
Glenn Platt: None of which was what I had arranged for, right? And he was just like this incredibly generous, kind person but for him, he’s also connecting to a fan. I would like to think if I was a musician and famous, it would be re-energizing for me to just have those moments from time to time. As opposed to getting beaten down, to feel like, “Oh, this is why I do this.”
Nick Gillespie: And it’s not the old style kind of rock god for you Jim Morrison and you go there and there’s like a dozen groupies waiting to fuck you or people are banging on your limousine. I mean, how many rock songs do we have to hear about how scary it is to be a rockstar because your fans are like the Furies or the Bacchi of ancient Greek legend their going to tear you apart because you’re their god and they love you so much. And I know, and you must see this when you see former students or people who are like, “Hey, thank you for something.” It’s like, “You made a difference.” Or, “I found this really interesting.”
Glenn Platt: Yeah, and this is graduation time of year so it’s very much top of mind for me.
Nick Gillespie: So, this is an economy that you’re talking about. Is there more than kind of psychic benefits for the performer or for the celebrity or whatever you want to call the maker of the exchange?
Glenn Platt: Yeah, that’s an important question, because a lot of these things, even though the PledgeMusic examples have dollar figures attached to them. Twitter, as we well know from their stock price, is not a platform for monetization yet, and so part of this is just what you need to do to maintain your place as a relevant brand. It isn’t that there is direct modernization of it.
Nick Gillespie: An interestingly … You had mentioned at the start that it’s not an accident that music is probably very heavy into this and it’s probably for a couple of reasons: one is simply because it’s performance and there’s always that intimacy of when you listen on a radio or with earphones, you think the band is singing directly to you. You go to a concert, there’s kind of a religious ecstasy sometimes between audience … But most importantly it’s also because, the way that the corporate structure of music was destroyed 15, 20 years ago and what’s most interesting to me about that was, as Napster was really destroying and unending and subverting a 50 year economic model, it became clear that a lot of bands, including a bunch of the people that you’re talking about at their level, they were probably not getting very much money out of the record label anyway. I mean, they’re not U2, they’re not R.E.M., they’re not Beyonce.
And I remember during the Napster hearings from the Senate, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, who also had a pretty good solo career, et cetera, and tours all the time, but he said he’s never received a royalty check from a record label. The Byrds had a couple number one hits in the 60s, I’m sure they had the shittiest contract imaginable, but-
Glenn Platt: He said some interesting personalization things too, actually.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, yeah.
Glenn Platt: They had these little clubs you would subscribe to and he’d record old folk songs
Nick Gillespie: He’s got a thing called the Folk Den and then would also be in more contact. And I guess primitive versions of this that don’t get quite to what you’re talking about, but webcasts, when that was a thing early on where you could do that.
Glenn Platt: Right, Patreon.
Nick Gillespie: Right, which is now seems to be coming on. There was an earlier version of that called PatroNet where you could … And I know Todd Rundgren, who is probably the exact level of star that you would want where his big label days are behind him, but he has rapid fans. And I know in this system called PatroNet, which was around in the early 2000s, late 90s, he would … If you pledge a certain amount and he would do some live shows and Q and A’s and things like that and people like Andrew W.K., another performer, used to do these kind of fun, Monday evening live stream webcasts where people would ask him questions and he would play songs and do trivia and whatnot.
Glenn Platt: Yeah, Patreon now is doing that, I think Steve Kilbey from The Church has something like that. And that’s that same sort of level of star where there’s like a big sort of fan following but they’re small. Like they’re passionate but small, and that gets to the scale question-
Nick Gillespie: So then is anybody monetizing the intimacy economy, as you talked about it, or is it more it’s kind of an indirect thing?
Glenn Platt: So this gets to maybe en even larger question of where this goes. What is this an ongoing economic model? And I’m gonna kind of bring this full circle to where I began and I referenced this. I think this is part of the great disintermediation. This is the wedge … And so-
Nick Gillespie: And if I could just, for our listeners who aren’t familiar with this intermediation, that was the promise and, even going back to the late 80s but certainly in the early 90s, when people talked about the internet, even before the web was becoming a big thing, a big goal was disintermediation, meaning we’re getting rid of all the middle men, we’re getting rid of all the wires, where people skim a little off the top so that by the time you get a product, you get an experience, you get a service, it’s less than what is started out as.
Glenn Platt: Right.
Nick Gillespie: And in a way, Bitcoin is the same type of thing. Bitcoin gets rid of all the intermediating institutions.
Glenn Platt: That’s exactly where I was going. I think Bitcoin is the intimacy economy. It is now a transaction between people and-
Nick Gillespie: You don’t need the centralized institutions but there is a completely transparent and visible catching system, as well, for trust or for exchange.
Glenn Platt: Right, the verification is what is does. So whether it’s the little square readers that people are sticking into their phones and suddenly they’re competing with Sears and J.C. Penney or Etsy stores that are competing with the Gap-
Nick Gillespie: Or even like Kate Spade or Jimmy Choo’s or higher end retailers that could give you personalized attention.
Glenn Platt: Those are all intimacy economy examples. You know, when you buy something on Etsy, it’s rough, it’s unpolished. You know what you have is completely different from what someone else had and these brands that give you this sort of faux personalization as if t-shirt was splattered with paint in a different-
Nick Gillespie: With B.O. stains, right? ‘Cause that’s Nordstrom’s urine stained jeans and shit stained panties and stuff.
Glenn Platt: As if anyone’s fooled by that, right? You can’t-
Nick Gillespie: Not kidding anyone besides me.
Glenn Platt: Well, they look good on you. On you they work. (Laughs) This intimacy economy creates that, like I said, authentic, unscripted, rough, warts and all exchange that people would rather have something that isn’t perfectly round but know that it was made for them for what they want.
Nick Gillespie: So, let me as you this. You’re trained as an economist, right?
Glenn Platt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nick Gillespie: Okay, which means that, and I know from various conversations we’ve had, politically you’d call yourself a liberal? A centrist? Liberal, maybe progressive?
Glenn Platt: I think liberal is fair.
Nick Gillespie: Okay, and because of your economic training, you’re not reactionarilly against free markets or exchange but you’re also … Yeah, so, looking at it from a kind of old Frankfurt School Marxist model, is this simply late capitalism two point oh, where it’s an even more insidious way to get people to buy shit that they don’t really need? Or is this … Looking at a kind of libertarian perspective, is this a great liberation of us from mass society and where we can finally truly become individual and express our individualism through the culture and the kind of economic exchange we engage in?
Glenn Platt: Can I just answer and say the latter?
Nick Gillespie: Yeah.
Glenn Platt: I mean, yeah. I think that’s exactly what it is. This is, to me, sort of the promise of what markets were always supposed to be. Free markets work when frictions are removed and when information becomes omnipresent. What we have been building up to this time, has been all of the technical infrastructure that allows those things to happen, but I would argue this is the first time we’ve been able to really pull the trigger on it. That all the stories we’ve talked about here today work because everyone’s got a smart phone that’s got Periscope on it or Twitter has become … You know, it isn’t a special, magical tool, it’s just a thing everyone’s got in their pocket, right? Clary Shirky’s got this fabulous insight where he says, “Technology doesn’t become truly transformational until it becomes boring.” And we’ve hit that threshold now where technology has become boring and because of that, it enables these kinds of exchanges to happen that are far more satisfying for us-
Nick Gillespie: ‘Cause we’re not looking, in other words, the dongle or the cord isn’t working anymore. It becomes the backdrop, it’s the media, it’s the water in which we’re swimming, so now we can actually start doing laps-
Glenn Platt: The example, the PatroNet thing; my best is when that happened, half the people that tried to watch it couldn’t ’cause the broadband at their house was too slow and Todd Rundgren kept sort of [raising out 00:46:30] into one of his high-pitched notes, right? And now-
Nick Gillespie: The dogs in the neighborhood were barking and you couldn’t even hear him.
Glenn Platt: Right, glitching and it would be like a Max Headroom kind of experience that … we just don’t worry about that anymore. We’ve reached this point now where, I can sort of seamlessly reach through the internet and touch Todd Rundgren and he can do that to me and I feel like that’s a very real thing. And I’m not gonna think or even worry about the technology. Now it’s just about the experience and that threshold that we’ve crossed, means that anyone … That market making ability … Anyone can have an Etsy store, anybody’s got the little square reader, anyone can run a PledgeMusic campaign. As much as it’s fun to talk about the Craig Finns of the world or the Ken Stringfellows, if you go on the PledgeMusic, 90% of the people on there, you have no clue who they even are. And these people are doing living room tours and they’re making money doing it because if you get 20 people in a living room and you get all the revenue and you’re not getting ripped off by a promoter and a club owner and your label, you can make a living at this.
Again, the great disintermediation means that the promise of markets-
Nick Gillespie: Let me ask as a final question, what about the intermediate institutions … Because, you know, at the same time, you have that, you do want people to curate. Because now, suddenly, instead of going to, I don’t know, Sears Roebuck, which is disappearing from the landscape after an incredible run of over a hundred years, but Sears is gone. They curated a bunch of shit, both in their catalog and whatnot. I mean, they were like the Whole Earth Catalog for developing America where you could go through that. Now, suddenly, the catalog would be a thousand pages longer and don’t we need intermediate or mediating organizations that help with reputation that help say, “Well, Glenn, you wear glasses and you wear shoes. Here are things that you would like.” Where does that go in this?
Glenn Platt: Yeah, we absolutely need those things. But what we need those institutions to do is something very different than they did in the past. Before, they were gatekeepers, they were funnels, they were, I would argue, more curators than today’s … Which really need to be facilitators. Back to the point I just made about what technology affords, that reducing transaction costs and increasing information flow. And so these mediators, need to serve that purpose so that when you go, for example, on to PledgeMusic, it will keep that example going, it ought to be able to recommend bands that you would be interested in backing that maybe you haven’t heard before based on some sort of filtering and artificial intelligence.
Nick Gillespie: Right, and so it could be. Yeah, they’ll say like the types of music, the moods, who these bands are like. You know, they might ask the bands to say, “Okay, we are your top ten … What bands have influenced you the most?” I mean, there’s a way to create as sense of that and, of course, I assume for you or for the user in that experience too, is one of the things that you want to do is be one of the first backers of a band that is unknown now but is going to become kind of big and the next thing. So it’s almost like we get to be, and to use economic terms or investing terms, that you could be a venture capitalist for band X, which is not yet big but might be. And you might even start placing bets because that’s kind of cool and interesting if you like their music, you want to see them become big.
Glenn Platt: Absolutely. I mean, that is a form of intimacy, to be producer, essentially, of, whether it’s music or a book or a physical space, a building-
Nick Gillespie: Is there a regulatory regime that would, either suffocate this or facilitate it more? I guess it’s happening but … Are there threats to the intimacy economy that we should be particularly worried about?
Glenn Platt: I think the toothpaste is out of the tube on this. Like I said, I don’t think it could be regulated if it wanted to be, but I don’t think that there’s even … I have not ever even heard a groundswell of any sort for that, other than, with the respect to Kickstarter and Indie Go Go, those sorts of relationships, making sure there’s that people are aware of what their investing in-
Nick Gillespie: Right, and that they’re not getting equity or this or that. I mean, there were a couple of questions about that.
Glenn Platt: That world is still I think in pretty significant danger of getting regulated away. It’s just mason enough but the relationships that we have with individuals even … I think the only one maybe that comes to mind is the FCC is pretty hardcore about divulging financial compensation arrangements. So, if it’s supposedly authentic Periscope … Let’s say you see Snoop Dogg and he pulls out an Adidas branded bong, if he was given that by Adidas, he needs to actually … Present law it says, he needs to indicate that he got compensated for that. He actually needs to fess up. So, I think there’s some chance that the accidental things that occur in these raw moments might fall subject to some kind of implied endorsement, maybe.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah. All right, well we will leave it there. We have been talking with Glenn Platt, he is a professor of Interactive Media Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and he’s the head of The Armstrong Interactive Media Center Studies … or Center for Interactive Media Studies?
Glenn Platt: That’s so wrong.
Nick Gillespie: Okay, so just give it to us-
Glenn Platt: The Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies. AIMS. Armstrong Institute. AIMS. Media Studies.
Nick Gillespie: Okay, Media Studies.
Glenn Platt: It’s too many words.
Nick Gillespie: It is.
Glenn Platt: Technology and Business Design, fun stuff. I work with [active 00:52:35] students and I appreciate you having me here today.
Nick Gillespie: Well, thank you. So, that’s Glenn Platt of Miami University. This has been The Reason podcast, I’m Nick Gillespie. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you’re there. Thanks so much for listening.