When free content impoverishes us

Further to the previous post, we can examine why the spread of free information and free creative material on the Internet and elsewhere has created a big paradox: art and data is so plentiful and so easy to access now that more people than ever before can find it. However, at the same time, the prevalence of free material has made it seem less valuable than it ever was before.

For example, a committed artist who has worked on a creative project for years, let's say, striving to bring it to the highest quality he or she can muster, becomes harder to discover in the world of "cheap" works and amateurs. The level playing field of free content mixes the great with the commonplace, the original with the fake, and everything is flattened in an ever-expanding universe of creative material.

So, for a work of artistic quality to be valued, it either needs to be drawn out from the field or it needs to be scarce. The scarcer, the better. If demand can be created for its uniqueness, then its value rises.

This may be one way that even journalism could find a way out of its present crisis.

Andrew Potter, a columnist at Maclean's magazine, recently wrote an interesting piece that explores this paradox. It's called "When 'free' becomes really expensive," and you can read it here.


  1. I've been following this discussion as well and as a pseudo journalist, wrestling with what it means. Seems like we need to be a bit Madonna-like and keep reinventing ourselves. Here's what Seth has to say about it: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/06/malcolm-is-wrong.html

  2. Okay, so it's late at night and here is the rambling of an old-school journalist

    It really is hard to adjust our thinking to the new realities of the media world. On the one hand, the change is incredibly liberating; on the other, it's the death knell for many businesses and for jobs. In a world of massive amounts of free material, accessible anywhere, anytime, even the smartest, most interesting people who say the most profound things are often lost in the crowd.

    So for those who don't care to get informed, these voices go unheard. it's so easy to care only about one's own hobbies or narrow interests. The old media used to serve an important social function. I hope we don't entertain ourselves to death while democracy crumbles and the barbarians gather at the gates.

    Or are we seeing instead the birth of a new wired global culture that will solve problems, like the Borg on Star Trek, and make this a better place... And too bad for the old ways of doing things. Now education is becoming all about knowing how to find slivers of information only when we need them and all about connecting to those who know something about something so we don't have to memorize anything.

    Hmm... and then what about context? Or ethics? etc. etc....

    Thanks for getting the creative juices going, Lucy.

  3. PS.. I meant "Borg-like," not that the fictional Borg is a positive force.