Sunday, October 27, 2013

why i've come to hate the internet

While slumming the Internets this morning I came across the wonderful editorial on the New York Times website, "Slaves of the Internet, Unite!", written by Tim Kreider (someone I'll have to start paying more attention to).

In his wonderful editorial I linked to, out pops this one jewel among many:
Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge. I now contribute to some of the most prestigious online publications in the English-speaking world, for which I am paid the same amount as, if not less than, I was paid by my local alternative weekly when I sold my first piece of writing for print in 1989. More recently, I had the essay equivalent of a hit single — endlessly linked to, forwarded and reposted. A friend of mine joked, wistfully, “If you had a dime for every time someone posted that ...” Calculating the theoretical sum of those dimes, it didn’t seem all that funny.
The sad and somewhat hypocritical point to all this is that I, yes I, have just "contributed" to the very same destructive system that Mr. Kreider is editorializing against. I've quoted him and sited him and linked to him in the New York Times. And yet, he won't get a penny from me, even if I could pay for the use of his work. Unfortunately for him and the rest of us, this didn't show up with the Internet. It's been a long time coming, baked into our technological culture for the past century. Let me explain...

In today's world the Internet is deliberately set up with no simple to use, reliable, robust infrastructure in place to "monetize" unique content such as Kreider's editorial and then make sure it goes directly back to the original author (and before you pipe up about in-app purchases or ads in mobile apps, that fails my original premise).

How is money being made? In ads that go back to "content aggregaters" such as Google and in user fees to "internet service providers" such as my Brighthouse Networks or AT&T, to whom I pay hundreds of dollars in total every month just for the privilege of viewing such "valueless" content, and who both want to start implementing data caps so I can pay even more if I cross some arbitrary usage. I mean, God forbid I take too many bits and deprive the starving masses of the world Their Fair Share. We all know how corrosive those bits are to the series of tubes known as the Internet, and how labor intensive it is to make more fragile bits to fill those fragile tubes...

If you're wondering how we got here, you can look back to the start of commercial radio at the beginning of the twentieth century. Radio stations played songs (content) for free, and earned money through advertising (radio jingles). Early radio also had their equivalent of soap operas with one or more prominent corporations who payed top dollar to have advertising about them prominently played periodically during the show on the radio. The majority of the advertising revenue went to the station owners, with a pittance split off for the rest who labored creatively to make the radio station worth listening to and thus valuable to the owner.

As the decades passed radio evolved into a music delivery system, with the soap operas showing up on the-then-new television, and the same cycle basically repeated itself. The owners of the broadcast stations (content delivery) took the majority of the advertising income, with part of that revenue stream peeled off for the content creators. Except in TV things got a bit more complicated, with studios producing shows and unions representing various classes of workers (actors, singers(!), writers, etc). Better perhaps than radio, which still doesn't pay to play songs (sometimes its the other way around: re payola).

During that period if you purchased the right equipment you could make your own personal recording of music or a part of a TV show. I'm sure I broke the laws quite often as a middle schooler in the late 1960s by recording the audio portion of the original Star Trek without permission on a small 3" GE reel-to-reel tape recorder I got for Christmas one year. I would record the audio, making sure to stop during the ads (a hideous crime for sure), and then play them back over and over, with the visual portions only in my mind. I got to the point I could quote every line in every first season episode. But I digress...

Being a simpler time, and being a kid who wasn't trying to sell what I recorded, I had no fear of Hollywood-paid US government jackbooted thugs coming through my door to haul me away to prison. It was a lot of effort to make my recordings, too much effort to sell them if I could, and too much effort on their part to come after me even if they knew. Too much friction as they say...

But here, in the 21st century, where literally everything has been (or soon will be) fully digitized, with nothing in place to really stop you (except for some poorly implemented DRM and insane copyright laws), the ability to "consume" damn near everything has now become frictionless. Mix in generations of passive viewing training where all you needed was to turn on your radio or TV to listen to or watch "free" entertainment, combined with the same frictionless access via the internet, and it's now reached the point where everything is assumed to be free (it really isn't), leaving anybody who wants to do anything creative with no real way to make a decent living.

It's been decades in the making. It's got huge money behind it all to make sure it stays this way. It's going to take a real revolution to change it for the better.

To Be Continued...

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