Hobo Digest: The Free Content Anomaly

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The Free Content Anomaly

I believe strongly in free speech, generosity, equality and access to necessary information for one’s role in society. I have always thought it was ludicrous for any government to say that “ignorance is no excuse” when they put out absolutely no effort to inform citizens on what laws exist and even make it difficult and costly to find. This is shameful and unacceptable. Governments require twelve years of education, yet none of it covering what is expected of you as a citizen in order to not suffer penalization by the community.

At the same time, I also find myself extremely befuddled by the mindset that can find its origin with our sense of righteous indignation against a lack of access to such necessary information. The mindset I’m referring to is the content should be free movement that definitely seems to be picking up. Now, before I give this concept a good ole British thrashing, I would like to first recognize that being in the information age does legitimately add complexity to the issue. Caveat admitted, let’s get on with the angry post.

I happen to be a regular frequenter to coffee shops and one thing I notice is that the more into coffee I become, the pickier I am about the beans used, the roast, the water ratio added and so on and so forth. Too often, I buy my coffee, dislike the taste, dislike the ambience or lack-there-of, and somewhat regret my selection in venue. Sadly, there’s not a lot in the way of buyer-protection in the case of buyer’s remorse, after all, it was just a few bucks.

Maybe, just maybe I should be able to demand and say, “Hey barista dude, your payment counter creates an environment that misaligns the interests of the barista and the consumer. The coffee should be free and the good coffees will be rewarded!” But, somehow, I think you would disagree. We all know what would happen if coffee shops had to provide the building, electricity, internet access, tables, chairs, heating/air conditioning, coffee, cream, bagels, muffins, butter, vegan butter, barista services and ambiance for free with hopes of upvotes or donation: no more coffee shops.

Similarly, content production is not without its costs. In fact, as far as human hours are concerned, an ebook or podcast may in fact provide content that took the expert years of their life to understand and be able to help the community learn about. If we value our time, you might find that an ebook or news article has much more initial cost behind it than starting a coffee shop. For example, while an opinion piece on a blog can be pumped out daily with relative ease, investigative journalism requires significant hours put into probing, interviewing and fact checking all to guarantee that you will receive reliable information you may need. But it doesn’t end there, then you have the expenses of putting it into a palatable state as a product that people will want to consume and then put up the upfront cost for visibility.

Early on, people had to pay for their news, but eventually there was a shift toward free information. In an almost magical way, you could get something for nothing, only, it wasn’t completely for nothing. Your attention was the cost, and eyes for advertisers were the real product of the news. However, advertisers want effective results for their money, so with enough pressure from businesses to perform, and thanks to advancements in technology as well, medias began learning how to optimize results with data collection.

Next came data as a product, which tends to creep folks out and with the creepiness and excessive exposure to advertisements combined, adblockers came into the world. It is at that point in the history books that we find ourselves today, as the public grows frustrated with the invasive manipulation of their attention and personal behavior people have begun pushing back. There is a growing movement against privacy invasion and attention clutter. Advertisements like this one:

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By Blake Letras
The eBook, coming soon to an online store near you...

...are outright hated, and while it is relatively understandable, this creates a problem of transition for many businesses. People have grown accustomed to getting their information for free, they want it to stay free and for the non-free stuff to become free, but they want it in pretty wrapping with a bow, oh, and also without advertisements. This creates quite a conundrum for producers that now realize that they are expected to do their job for free.This time, really, truly, actually for free.

Can free information without a product, service or advertisement behind it work out? Such a concept would depend on massive reform, such as a universal income system, vibrant meritocracy or an autonomous economy. The risk is that information reporting would be changed in one of two ways: 1. it would become only a hobbyist activity or 2. become controlled propaganda, either by authority figures of the universal income system or by financial benefactors that provide the lion’s share in donations.

I don’t like the idea of education being withheld from the poor, but perhaps cryptocurrencies could result in more affordable information reporting. Perhaps $0.05 paywalls will eventually become viable means of covering costs for decentralized and orderly news sources and reach to a global audience.

Its difficult to find anything that is ever truly perfect, but we can figure out what is the lesser of two evils. Upfront payment for the service of information reporting funds an important work, a work that is very fragile. When you pay for information you know that the producer of that information cares to give you exactly what you’re looking for: reliable information. Knowledge is power, never more so than now, and if someone other than you holds the purse strings, you know that what you are reading wasn’t designed for you.

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