What is the value of free? Is there a value to being better off? I spend $42 a month to be connected to the internet by a high speed cable. I’m online hours and hours every day every week. Almost everything I use and do on the internet is free. If I was a programmer and wanted to create a game or even a program like Snapchat, the open-source applications I would use to write the code is free. I could put out the program for millions or hundreds of millions of folks to use for free. My app would not bring in any revenue nor show an increase in the USA G.D.P. by a penny. And there’s a whole lot of that stuff going on. No doubt we are all better off, like rising Gross Domestic Product is supposed to make us feel, but this is a non-economic digital GDP that makes me crazy to think about.
I use GoogleMaps all the time. Can you imagine what this has done to Garmin, Tomtom or Magellan stocks? Not good. I realize that we are constantly improving things, like the horse and buggy for the automobile. But, that created millions of jobs. Wikipedia killed Britannica and Compton.
When I was back in Indiana last month I loved surprising my mom with technology that blew her mind. I wheeled her chair into the living room area at the nursing home (where I could hook on to the free wireless). The first time I surprised her I showed her my Kindle HD Fire, and all the books I had on the unit and how big I could make the font so her failing eyesight could easily read. That was amazing take #1. Then I flipped the Kindle on its side and stood it up and touched the little phone icon and after hearing a few rings, my wife’s smiling face would pop up on the screen saying “Hello Momma Dorothy, how are you?” That was the Dorothy Stun Award of 2013. Mom looked at me, looked back at the screen, back at me and said to me, “What do I do?”
I said, “Say hi.”
Skype is free. Yes, there are advertisers that have little ads around the edges, not as much as Facebook(also free) but I couldn’t name one of those advertisers if you waved money in my face. As far as I’m concerned, it’s FREE.
There’s another free thing that’s HUGE. Twitter. Somehow we have purchased enough stock in the company to value it at over—-get ready—TWENTY FOUR BILLION DOLLARS. It is an app used daily by one hundred million people. There are over two hundred thirty million active Twitter users. These users send out 500 million tweets every day, every week, every month. It’s FREE! Since Twitter started there have been over Three Hundred Billion Tweets. Free!
Here’s the scary part. An economist from M.I.T. who knows how to find government statistics and interpret them, says that the “information sector”—that would be publishing, software, data services and telecom—has barely grown since the late ‘80s. We’re getting more and more digital content but the jobs are shrinking and most of it is FREE.
What does this all mean? You tell me.