The greatest development of the 20th century was undoubtedly the internet.
Whilst there were bigger and more immediately impactful developments, like the hydrogen bomb for example, it’s the internet that has truly unwrapped the world.
The flow of information, once hidden or difficult to gain, is now like a champagne cork frozen into a permanent state of just being popped. It gushes, unstoppable and uncontrollable.
For countless millions of people this is great. It means access to knowledge and communications that they would never have had. News, blogs, information, data, books, films and music.
For everyone else, the billions who already had access to this stuff in other formats, it unfortunately meant an irreversible crippling of value.
To have access to anything you want, whenever you want it, does one thing brilliantly: it diminishes the inherent value in all of those things. This is as true as the light from the sun and the flow of the sea.
Let’s take one example: music.
Digital music has meant that anyone can have access to anything. Every album you’ve ever wanted, in no more than a minute, downloaded. Bang. Sounds great, right?
No. Actually, it isn’t.
When listening to a new song meant getting it from a shop, or catching it on the radio, then it was an event, an achievement in fact, to not exaggerate the event at all. It was really difficult to hear stuff whenever you wanted to. For more obscure tracks or albums, it meant getting into record shops or sitting in bedrooms, listening to crackly records. Hard work, creepy even, but rewarding.
Mixtapes. Mixtapes were the most amazing thing you could be given. And they were always gifts. No-one made a mixtape for themself, so they had personal worth too. Collections of personal songs, all of divergent types, quality of sound and taping skill. Mixtapes were often the only place you owned a particular song too. They were precious.
Ever send someone a mix CD. An mp3 playlist? No. Why would you? Everyone torrents everything.
When I first found out about torrents I promptly downloaded every Stones album. I’ve never listened to them. Not one. I have thousands of tracks and albums on my Mac that I’ve never listened to. I still buy CDs. I listen to them on repeat.
Here’s the thing: If something’s easy to get, if it’s ‘on a plate’, if it’s free and easy to get, then how does it compare to something equivalent that you go out and hand over £10 and bring back in a bag? Something tangible, and yours. Not a copy of something, that everyone else has got too?
What about if you buy your digital stuff? Great. That’s great. Sorry though pal, you’re in a spectacular minority and, even if you do, how valuable is that 79p song? Not even as valuable as 79p. It’s just disappeared into your 10 million song library. It has no true value, and the artist is fucked.
The internet distribution opportunity for individual artists is amazing, there’s no doubt about that. But, the customer has to play their part, and they don’t.
I can release a book right now into Amazon. If it sells, I earn fuck all. Sell through iTunes, sit back and count the money coming in? Nope. How about Spotify? Ha!
I say this now – no fisherman is happy to be selling to/via Tesco. No artisan happy to be flogging shit through IKEA. It’s the fear of no other choice for those people. How happy are you to support that?
Ubiquitous presence breeds contempt of the highest order. Worse, it reduces input for the maximum output, but the originator doesn’t get that output, irrespective of what you pay. And you pay cheap.
Take some pride in your purchases. Purchase only that which has value, true value. Appreciate what you have, though it be reduced in number by the necessity of your spend. Its necessity is its worth, and its worth is your reward.