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:
-Cable TV service
-Cellular telephone service (voice, data, messaging)
-Landline telephone service
-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.
It’s a strange world we live in. We begrudge the folks who actually create the stuff we enjoy reading, listening to, and watching a few pennies for their labor, and yet at the very same time we casually throw hundreds of hard-earned bucks at the saps who run the stupid networks through which the stuff is delivered. We screw the struggling artist, and pay the suit.
Somebody’s got a good thing going.
UPDATE: Alan Jacobs, over at Text Patterns, adds an interesting gloss to this post:
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?
Back when we were more conscious of what particular bits of information we were spending our information dollars on was our information diet (so to speak) healthier than it is today when we buy tickets to all-you-can-eat buffets? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question, but it’s a question worth pondering. It certainly underscores how silly it is to simply try to measure “cost per unit of information” as if that alone tells us anything. Unless, of course, you believe that every unit of information is identical in terms of quality and value.