Eclipse Phase: Social Networks and Social Economies

In this two-part blog post, I will be examining and relating social media concepts to the fictional setting of Eclipse Phase, a tabletop roleplaying game where the technological singularity came and went, causing what amounts to an apocalypse to occur on the earth. To properly apply the social media concepts and contextualize them in relation to our real world I will be giving the setting itself context in the first part of the blog post and then elaborating on the relations the setting itself has with social media contexts and the interesting interplay between the setting and the concepts themselves. In this first blog post, I will be discussing Social Networks and Social Economy within Eclipse Phase.

The setting of Eclipse Phase takes place in our solar system, an indeterminate amount of time since our current time, but within the bounds of possibility to an extent. Technology and society continued to advance and the Earth itself became much to crowded to house all individuals. To combat this the various scientific institutions and governments funded expeditions and colonies dotting the entire solar system. These expeditions, while linked with a fast means of communication (often experiencing at most a 20-min delay in this early period) were costly and associated with hibernation and slow ship speed. This issue alongside the aging population of elites on Earth spurred advancements in cognitive and neurological science, eventually leading to the establishment of “Egos” and “Morphs”. The distinct between individuals with the new technology of “Cortical Stacks” and “Psychosurgery” verse those without became apparent immediately, as those with the advancements effectively had achieved immortality. As long as the Cortical Stacks remained undamaged, the individual could switch between bodies through a medical procedure in the new field of Psychosurgery. People now how had aspects to themselves, their Ego, or their mental/emotional half, and their Morph, or their physical body. Due to this advancement individuals could be placed into cheaper bodies if they couldn’t afford a nice one, often amounting to garbage can robots with minimal functionality besides a means to work, often in harsh conditions. As the technological singularity neared, advanced A.I.s subverted the militaries of the Earth and started the systemic collection of the Egos of all humans on earth. A mass evacuation of Earth occurred, with many billions of human Egos lost to the A.I.s. The setting of the game takes place ten (10) years after this occurred. Technology has advanced significantly since then, yet earth remains under quarantine. The major human population centers are on Mars, Luna, Jupiter’s Moons, and Venus; with a variety of space habitats and social groups traversing the spaces in between. The Media Richness of the setting has pronounced effects on how characters interact with and are affected by socialization and social media.

Social networks within the setting of Eclipse Phase are varied and specific both in game terms and within the context of the setting. The sheer quantity of information and immersion of each and every individual in the sphere influence known as the “Mesh” has caused the grand majority of individuals to exhibit tremendous levels of Digital Literacy, with the odd individual having trouble with everyday technology being seen as especially incompetent and troublesome. (Humphreys) Social networks are an integral aspect of the setting for the player characters and everyday characters in the setting, as all actions, interactions, and reactions of the inhabitants of Eclipse phase are shared and communicated within their respective social networks. The solar system and society experience a level of Convergence that would be warranted by the onset of the apocalypse that humanity experienced. (Chandler et. all) All social networks and communication has fallen into one of a handful of social networks, each independently controlled (no single individual controls the networks) by the respect user, and each specialized to a particular Affinity Space. (Lindgren) The groupings are often arbitrary other then the consensus of norms, for example while there is a social network for the average corporation working (©-network) there is also a social network explicitly for criminal activities (G-network). This however isn’t to say that the networks themselves are mutually exclusive, due to the affordances of being able to adapt and living in several different bodies, individuals often have various identities, each identity holding sway and control to different extents within several social networks.

It is very interesting then to consider what kinds of effects these affordances and this environment has on our social media concepts. Affinity Spaces form and are destroyed in instances, with the rapid pace of information dissemination between individuals constantly connected to the equivalent of the internet, alongside the hybridization and Convergence of both social communication and social presence, identity and influence play a much more significant role on a day to day basis in interactions then it does today. These differing identities alongside a system where one can obscure and disappear amongst a tidal wave of information allows the emergence of a plethora of the phenomenon known as Pseudonymity, wherein individuals are identified by a username or characteristic but their personhood is itself not identified. (Humphreys) This then has interesting ramifications for the different levels of communication and self-actualization given the environment of social media in this setting. Due to the ubiquity of mindless and free labor, physical labor is often a very poorly paid means of employment, whereas the ubiquity of experiences and the availability to experience them in a multitude of ways has brought forth the artist and art in general as being of importance. The technological singularity came, Eclipse Phase is a post scarcity game, where old world economies are rare but essential, while most economies work on a mixed basis, of which I will descriptive and contextualize later in this blog. What can be said about this right now is that it is quite interesting the interactions people have when confronted as players to this setting, often a very jarring experience as our contextualization of social media, resources, and communication has difficulty dealing with post scarcity, ubiquitous labour and communication, and the unprecedented means to disappear behind walls of Anonymity. It is then amusing to consider the ramifications of such a society on individual socialization, which often boil down to forgetting or avoiding socialization due to the sheer ubiquity of actions pertaining to each socialized form.

The complexity and ubiquity of social networks and their interactions within Eclipse Phase also leads to an interesting development within the game setting itself: Social Capital has created and formed the bedrock for several stable and consistent economies, enough to rival old style economies in the same setting. (Humphreys) The social economies of Eclipse Phase rely on group cooperation and consistent communication with the collective network. Every action, and transaction is recorded and reviewed in social economies, while there is no currency in these economies, your individual Social Capital is your primary means of acquiring the things you need and want. Individuals with high Social Capital have more influence and power when promoting or deriding individuals in the same social network. This push and pull dynamic in social economies provides its own form of checks and balances, where the influence and power of any given individual is determined on a case by case basis depending on how the two individuals view each other, referencing reviews and interactions they have taken in the past into consideration. The openness and transparency needed in these social economies coupled with no actual currency effectively means that those who create art or designs are inherently more valuable then those who would or could buy those respective things. The lack of a currency leads to the realization that middle men are almost entirely removed from the proceed, with buyers functioning as sources of barter rather then accumulators of wealth. The inherent Sharing Economy in these systems is pervasive to the point where any given individual relying on influence to survive (as resources still need to be acquired and objects need processing) often actively participate in their respective social networks fervently in attempts to make ends mean when they don’t have anything artistic of otherwise to contribute. (Humphreys)

The interactions within these systems play a perfect role in transitioning into a conversation on politics and social interactions in Eclipse phase, which will be part 2 of this blog post.

References

Chandler, Daniel, and Rod Munday. A Dictionary of Social Media. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Humphreys, Ashlee. Social Media: Enduring Principles. New York, NY, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Lindgren, Simon. Digital Media & Society. Los Angeles, SAGE Publications Ltd, 2017.

See communicationtheory.org “Media Richness Theory” (2010)

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