Everything Is Free – At What Price?

About 1993, just out of art school, I stared into the abyss of the Internet. I had worked in a form of computer animation as a “colorist.” At the time Disney was still trying to hide its use of computer animation as was everyone else in the industry. I guess it somehow took the magic out of movie magic. A friend of mine who, unlike me, continued on into website development. She wanted to develop a computer game for her portfolio and felt that it could be a good tool to let people know about my band.

Reluctantly I agreed. My day job was being a psychic at that time. I knew the tarot very well and the principle behind them which is simple: human intent + a symbolic language that takes into account every human experience (either spiritually or on a mundane level) + random chance = a divination system.

As long as she could make a program to randomly generate a set of at least three combinations the divination system I came up with could accurately answer at least a yes/ no question and also give some insight into a problem. I wrote out my interpretations of all the tarot cards. The focus was for the average person, so I stuck to the mundane interpretations of the cards.

She programmed the “game” with all the interpretations I wrote and put the description on how to use the oracle. It was very accurate. All the art was mine, she put it together. It didn’t do anything to help me but she landed an excellent job because of it which was fine by me. I hadn’t expected anything and was happy to help.

I bring up this story because she was very keen on the Internet and the new wave of economic promise she believed it would deliver. I however would go on and feel an uncomfortable chaos lurking in that computer abyss. I saw a dark side that no one seemed to notice. It felt like a Trojan Horse or a mass delusion. Stocks for anything internet started going through the roof. My friend started a business designing websites for corporations. Everybody was becoming “millionaires” and no one was watching as factories closed and people lost their jobs to Asia.

I however sat on the sidelines asking the un-askable question: how is this going to make people money? I don’t understand why everyone is getting rich. My friend neatly explained, “this is a new platform for businesses to sell their products.”

“So, it’s basically a giant mall? Or no, catalogue?”

She nodded but I could tell she wasn’t sure what other possibilities existed. No one was.

When The MP3 format came out I asked executives in the music business why they didn’t adopt it and just charge .99 a song. They calmly explained to me that, “People want the real thing. They want to hold something in their hands, look at pictured of the artist, read lyrics.” After I heard that excuse a dozen times and artists started making their own websites with pictures and lyrics, I pointed this out to them. They shrugged. They honestly believed it was all going to go away, as if convience and free where ridiculous fads. You see they lived in a bubble where they felt safe, protected, special – untouchable. Turned out this was the thing that brought them down just as it brings down every empire. And in the 1990s they were a big empire, making more money than they ever had before.

Untouchable, in a bubble, “it could never happen here”; these are the hallmarks of a downfall.

“It could never happen here,” was a sentiment I heard a lot in high school when I debated kids about the evils of deregulation. The mess we are in now harkens back to the Reagan administration ie. the 1980s. It’s time to rectify the dismantling of the economic protections put into place during the depression.

The reason we have the “worst recovery in history” is because too much economic power is concentrated in so few corporations and too few people. One company that creates, not only gains a monopoly capable of reaming consumers, it also becomes the sole provider. So if that company, say a bank, loses your money by way of crappy investments – well, in that case the Feds have to bail them out so they don’t go under. All their clients are protected by federal insurance so if banks act irresponsibly (which they’ve done many times now – but the first site of this was the onset of the Great Depression) then you still go to the bank and get your cash out. If our ancestors hadn’t had that terrifying experience and then demanded the government do something to protect consumers there would be no FDIC. If it didn’t exist the 2008 “Great Recession” would have been another “Great Depression.”

But take too much concentrated power in a media companies? You get companies that can dictate their corporate culture to a mass audience. Do it long enough, say it enough times and people start to believe – especially young people. That’s why the Nazis reached out to the young – why every cult reaches out to young people. They are very impressionable. It may take them a lifetime or generations to untangle a lie if they ever do.

So back to my point about everything being free now. The 1990s business model appeared to be: America/Americans/Europeans poised to be innovators – developing new technologies for the internet age, and exporting culture – all things related to intellectual property – sort of like the head part of a body. The developing world would be the muscles and body – building and carrying out the production of these new products. Factories were moved to Asia – no one made a fuss, too many people were getting paper rich on bubbilicious tech stocks.

But inevitably reality set in. Not everyone is made to be a creator of intellectual property even if they were born on US soil and more importantly not everyone cares to create such content. Just like everyone isn’t a tightrope walker neither is everyone an inventor, writer, software engineer. This new economy appeared to favor the intellectual property side – if not that then what else? But as the digital age exploded, it became socially acceptable and easy to steal intellectual property. Providers in many cases went along with the theft because it seemed so uncool not to – for example when Radio Head put out a record and asked fans to, “just pay what you think it’s worth.” Record companies went the opposite direction trying to sue fans for downloads. Neither addressed the bigger issues at hand. If we are going to have an economy run on the engine of intellectual property then someone was going to have set guidelines to protect both producers of content and consumers, but no hero ever emerged, no answer ever came, only the small pittance of Apple doing the very first stage idea I had, ten years after the problem was completely out of control.

Now corporations have figured out how to use this to their advantage. Most producers of content don’t or can’t make a living at it. There is no central information stream to sell products through so instead they do what Hollywood has always done – exploit the narcissism of young people. They find kids who have millions of “likes” and give them garbage to wear in their utube videos. The kids feel they are special because they are getting special compensation – of course not enough to live on in most cases – but these kids have no idea how they are being exploited for the good of the corporate culture.

My generation was leery of advertising and resisted being marketed to. The “Millenials” think they are famous because they get lots of traffic on their utube channel and calls from product lines whose sole intention is to use them for cheap advertising. What those young adults don’t realize is “fame” is fleeting and spending your young adult life retweeting about some Hollywood film or talking about ingrown hairs online, not only doesn’t get you much “fame” it also doesn’t move you anywhere except into your parents basement when you are 40, assuming your parents are lucky enough to have a job or career or both in most cases.

So where do these young adults get the idea that corporations are their friends?

The last thirty years has seen the rise in a multinational corporateracy. Big business has figured out how to control the only super-power standing – money. It helps to own media corporations to spread ones message of a benevolent and loving corporate culture. Republicans are always on message telling the public to, “let the market sort itself out.” Whining about how CEOs don’t make enough money or how shareholders need to see bigger profits. How it’s unfair to make businesses pay their workers a living wage – heck, as it turns out their finding all sorts of ways to get free or very low cost labor like exploiting the psychology of young people or forcing interstate truckers into an impossible pay structure of mileage, ensuring they will be forced to break the law and if they get fined – well, they are personally liable for the $5000.00 fine. My brother did that job for a few months until he realized he was never going to make more than a couple hundred bucks a week for the eighty or more hours he was putting in, not to mention having to be on the road for weeks at a time sleeping in the cab of a truck. The only way he could make a living wage was to speed and drive more than was allowed by law. And if he got caught – he was alone with the fine.

This is our America.

A place where upward mobility means going from rich to super rich on the backs of the workers. And for those who supply 99% of the intellectual property it means a consistent trend of downward payments and no protection for content makers.

Companies like Spotify get money from subscribers. Those subscribers get an unlimited library of music for that price. What do the musicians and songwriters get? Not much. It takes millions of plays to get a couple hundred bucks and takes the incentive away to listen to the radio or buy that artists work. Eventually musical artists will be put out of business and only those people who can afford to do it will play relegating the art form to hobbyists.

Unless you can develop a popular app or get rich people to help you with your business, moving up is nearly impossible. Even the “go to professions” becoming a doctor or lawyer are no guarantee of financial anything. Most people with law degrees can’t get jobs as lawyers and doctors in many places make barely enough to pay their student loans back.

So what’s my point?

Simple. Imagine our economy as a giant game of poker. One guy wins every hand until there’s nothing left to play the game. This is the reality of our economy. Corporatism doesn’t work, not only for the obvious reasons but for economic reasons. We have given China tremendous power by developing and exploiting them – so now they feel I powered to take on our ally the Phillipiens.

We are creating an obororus. Only that snake is us eating our own tail. The market we have is in a feedback loop. Anyone investing in it is diving into a snake pit full of lies, deception and gaming the system. The stock market may look good right now but it is being held together with hope and a glue gun. I am genuinely afraid that the stagnation we have in government, the lack of effort to create a real context for this new economy will plunge us into an entirely new form of depression and a host of other unholy things.

Peace and love,

Denise

Advertisements
Everything Is Free – At What Price?

4 thoughts on “Everything Is Free – At What Price?

  1. Thomas says:

    When Nixon opened up China to the West he also opened us up to their philosophies, where everything is communal, and there is no such thing as an individual’s “intellectual property.”

    In China ideas belong to “the people,” and this is one reason they have no qualms about hacking into everything.

    How this will all end up in the future will be interesting, because after China invades North America, they will take back all kinds of “energy” and philosophies to Asia, just like the way American troops brought back all kinds of “energy” from the Middle East, and why we’re seeing such a rise in strict religious dogma, and other things that resemble Middle Eastern ways.

  2. Simon R. Gladdish says:

    Dear Denise

    Excellent post. You clearly understand exactly what is going on! In my experience the internet is utterly useless for making money but it is a democratic tool in other ways. I put most of my poetry on Redbubble.com (Australlian) before publishing it with Lulu.com (American). So far I haven’t made a single cent but at least thousands of people have now read it which would not have been the case had it remained in my desk drawer.

    Best wishes from Simon

  3. Hi Denise – what are your thoughts on the situation in the Ukraine with Russia? China is now flexing its muscles, demanding the U.S. stay out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s