Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

information wants to be really, really expensive

Nick Carr is grumpy in ways I find consistently interesting. I’m going to quote a big chunk here and commend it to your thinking apparatus:

Never before in history have people paid as much for information as they do today.

I'm guessing that by the time you reached the end of that sentence, you found yourself ROFLAO. I mean, WTF, this the Era of Abundance, isn't it? The Age of Free. Digital manna rains from the heavens.

Sorry, sucker. The joke's on you.

Do the math. Sit down right now, and add up what you pay every month for:

-Internet service

-Cable TV service

-Cellular telephone service (voice, data, messaging)

-Landline telephone service

-Satellite radio

-Netflix

-Wi-Fi hotspots

-TiVO

-Other information services

So what's the total? $100? $200? $300? $400? Gizmodo reports that monthly information subscriptions and fees can easily run to $500 or more nowadays. A lot of people today probably spend more on information than they spend on food.

The reason we fork out all that dough is (I'm going to whisper the rest of this sentence) because we place a high monetary value on the content we receive as a result of those subscriptions and fees.

Now somebody remind me how we all came to think that information wants to be free.

Of course, not all of us are on the hook for all of those, but it’s worth taking a few minutes to add up what we do pay for, and how much. Sobering.

One of Nick's commenters suggests that his point is misleading because we're not paying all that much per bit of data. That's probably true, but it may not make the point the commenter wants it to make. Consider an analogy to restaurant dining: Americans in the past twenty years have spent far, far more on eating out than any of their ancestors did, and that's a significant development even if you point out that huge portions of fat-laden food mean that they're not paying all that much per calorie. In fact, that analogy may work on more than one level: are we unhealthily addicted to information (of any kind, and regardless of quality) in the same way that we're addicted to fatty foods?

4 comments:

  • Carr's list is flawed. Would he say that an individual who wants to eat well at a restaurant must buy every item on the menu? Most of the tools he mentions are superflous. I can gain access to the same amount of information with a $10 a month internet subscription, a Linux powered $200 PC, and a public library card. That seems a pretty good deal to me. Besides, my PC is not just a media appliance: I use it for writing, finances, learning about coding, etc. (O.K., I forgot to mention the landline, but that's an "old media" service, for which I paid much more 15 years ago.)

  • You're right about what people could pay, but I think Carr is right about what many, many people do pay.

  • I like the analogy. Information and food, as measured in ($/bytes) or ($/calories),are as inexpensive as ever. The problem is that the quality of the information is variable like food. All bytes and calories are NOT created equal. One page of Gettysburg address
    is quite different than 1 page of magazine print. Likewise 1000 calories or Fish Oil is
    much better for you than 1000 calories of bacon lard.Although the bacon lard does taste
    good.

  • $55 / mo.

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