More Thoughts on ‘Free’
The content here, whether it’s news reporting or ‘art’, is separable from the physical thing. Once digitised, the reproduction cost tends to zero, and the true value is unquanitifiable. Therefore, it’s hard to charge for. If you try, people will route around it. For anything non-physical, that doesn’t occupy a visible, allotted time (service) or space (object), you no longer have a “right” to charge. It exists now; it is out there; it no longer belongs to you. Its aura, as Walter Benjamin described it, has been separated from the act of creation, and is mediated between the creator, the viewer, the culture and the cultural lineage.
Back to the point: what can be charged for, then? One thing is reliability. I don’t mean reliable quality, because God knows we can’t guarantee that. But reliability in time. Current-ness. Being, reliably, of the moment.
Last night’s Analysis on Radio 4 heard from, among others, a University lecturer who “bans” her first-year students from using Wikipedia and Google (I’ve lost the name, sorry). That’s not good – but her point is a point: they have libraries and books and peer-reviewed journals that contain a better class of information than you’ll find – for now – through skimming search engines and Wikis. It is a challenge, and it’s a challenge that speaks to the same kind of utility, the need for good stuff, now.
When Walter Benjamin talked of the “parasitical dependence on ritual” he meant the old order of cultural production and criticism. But if we can build new rituals, engage in new ways, encourage new behaviours and interests, and above all engage with, rather than fight, Free we may discover new values too.
Image Source: tanakawho
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