How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy (t3knomanser) wrote,
How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy

Information Economies

In the current capitalist arena, we're running into a fairly unique conflict- or maybe not so unique- the conflict between a material economy and an information economy.

First, let me preface a few things. Unlike some films and books would like us to believe, the world does not run on an information economy. Overwhelmingly, people assign more value to material goods, houses, cars, etc. than they do information. However, there is a rapidly growing information economy, an economy driven by the trading of information.

Information economies aren't new. They've existed as long as people make art and write and tell stories. The change has been a gradual one, and the change has been seperating the information from the material. A very long time ago, if you wanted to hear a story, you had to find someone who knew that story. The material in this case was a person. You could learn the story from said person, and become a resource yourself, but you still needed someone who knew the story to start it off.

Then some smarty-pants invented writing. And now, you didn't need a person to tell you the story, a book would do the job just fine. The written word was more easily portable (people tend to protest being shoved in your knapsack). It had moved into a level of abstraction away from the teller- the teller told it once, and it was told forever. These books however were pretty expensive- someone had to write all that stuff out, to make another copy, some poor monk had to slave away over page after page copying it and doodling in the margins. The material side of this economy was still very expensive.

Then Gutenberg. Suddenly, the cost to produce the material side drops signifigantly. And so-on-so-on-so-forth. Each new advance of information technology has reduced the cost of the material side of the equation to the point where now, the material cost for most media is nil. What cost is bandwith and harddrive space?

There are some other side effects here. Back in the Gutenberg days, someone could have made a copy of a book if they wanted to- but most people didn't want to, because the material side of the equation didn't balance out for small scale distribution, and few people wanted to try the business of being a large scale distributor. Or, in the days of LPs, someone could have started pressing their own shellac/vinyl, but again, that is only practical if you're going to be distributing large quantites of copies- not one or two for you and your friends.

Okay, so that gets me more or less up to today. Here's the scenario. In the past, information was tied to material- it was difficult, if not impossible, to copy that information onto other material. This gave the creator of that info a great deal of control over what was done with it, how many copies were in circulation, and so forth. They had complete control of the supply, and could regulate it to meet demand.

This is no longer possible. Information can be easily stripped from its material; books can be scanned, CDs can be ripped, movies can be ripped, etc. Once they reside in the low-cost material we measure in "bytes", we are faced with a problem- the cost-to-copy, the only security had by info-producers had against a glut in supply, is gone.

The key to this whole thing is cost-to-copy. It's gone, or at least, it has turned into a matter of legality. The cost-to-copy in this case is legal action- which is more of a threat than an actual hazard. Sure, people get lawsuits against them, but compare the number of lawsuits versus the number of file-sharers, and we'll see that the law is a boogeyman with just enough reality to be scary.

Now, the reaction of the info-producers is to try and reinstate the cost-to-copy. Through DRM, they are again trying to make it difficult to reproduce that content. Unfortunately, DRM requires the permission of the user and would-be-copier. They have to be willing to say, "I want your product and am willing to be tied to a material aspect that I have no control over, but you do."

And regardless of the amount of DRM, there's always a way around, and if history has shown us anything, the time span between one material lockdown and it being broken is decreasing, and will most likely continue to decrease. Compare the amount of time between writing and the press with LPs and cassettes, and you'll see what I mean.

Cost-to-copy is done and dead. DRM is a last ditch attempt to reinstate it's hegmony, but it will fail by being undercut with alternative solutions.

The first one is to return an element of material economy to the informational one. While the information may be easily copyable, pair it with something material that the user wants. For example, the Army of Darkness special edition comes in a box done up like the Necronomicon from the movie, making it a desireable purchase in and of itself. Books have it easy- reading a book the old fashioned way is, and will always be, more satisfying than on the computer.

And here my brain blits out on me. I'll have to finish this off later.

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