Remember when we were children our parents told us to share? “Now Johnny, you share your toys with your sister. It’s nice to share”. Well I’m here to tell you that our parents were wrong.
Ok there are kinds of sharing that are good, for example if we find a funny meme on the internet then we are going to share it with our friends to give them all a laugh, that’s an example of good sharing. If a friend turns up at your house and he is broke and hungry and you just had pizza delivered then you are going to share your pizza with him aren’t you, that’s another example of good sharing. But there are kinds of sharing, that are a direct side effect of our digital information age, that are bad.
Bad sharing is when we share things that we (or others) could rightly ask to be paid for or when we share things that don’t belong to us. The most obvious of these is downloading music and movies for free via BitTorrent clients which costs the music and movie industries billions of dollars every year but there are less obvious forms of bad sharing.
For example, let’s say I have mad skills with Photoshop (the worlds most awesome photo editing app) and let’s say I also have a knack for teaching. So I decide to build myself a website called Photoshop how to dot com and I fill this website with instructional videos on how to do various things with Photoshop and I charge people for access to this website, say $2 per video to learn how to use Photoshop. So I give people my knowledge and skills in fair exchange for money but my website bombs, no one comes to my website and pays to learn how to use Photoshop and why? Because out there in the world wide web there are hundreds of people uploading Photoshop how to videos to YouTube for free. So you can learn everything you want to know about Photoshop (and pretty much anything else) for free just by going to YouTube.
So how is this a bad thing you ask? Aren’t these people doing a good thing? They are helping people out by giving them something for free and in the process making the world a better place. By giving things away for free they allow ordinary people to have more money in their pockets while putting less money in the pockets of greedy corporations. They are supporting the wider distribution of wealth and narrowing the gap between rich and poor. These people are veritable Robin Hoods, aren’t they?
No they are not! and in fact what they are doing is having the opposite effect. They are actually taking money out of the pockets of ordinary people, and food out of their mouths. They are actually stifling the distribution of wealth and making the gap between rich and poor wider. But how can that be you ask? It doesn’t make any sense! Actually it makes perfect sense when you understand how economies work in capitalist societies like ours.
When it comes to sharing through BitTorrent clients that one is easy. As I’ve already said such sharing (theft) costs the music and movie industries billions of dollars every year. Do you think all of those billions would otherwise just go into company bank accounts and stay there? No, that money would be turned back into the industry to create more movies and music and in the process create thousands of jobs for “ordinary people”. How many jobs do you think a billion dollars could create?
But when it comes to the other forms of sharing I was talking about it’s a bit harder to explain. Back before currency was the main method of payment and we used to barter and trade if I had a cow then I might trade a bucket of milk to the farmer down the road for a sack of potatoes or to the blacksmith for new shoes for my horse. No one was running around giving away buckets of milk for free and why? Because we all need to eat. Or to put it into more modern parlance, you can’t eat clicks and likes.
Still not making sense? Then come with me back into the present day and let’s say, just for the sake of the argument that YouTube doesn’t exist. I have created my website Photoshop how to dot com and it builds a small following. All of a sudden I’m earning an extra $400 per week. Ok I’m not going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg but $400 per week is better than a slap in the face. Now that I have all of this extra disposable income what am I going to spend it on? Well I love pizza but before Photoshop how to dot com I could only afford to buy pizza once a month. With all this extra income I think I’m going to order pizza twice a week. Now lets say Mario owns the local pizza shop. All of a sudden Mario has a big increase in business, he’s making and selling more pizzas and making more money so he is happy. He also needs more stock to make his pizzas from because of his increased trade so he increases his order with the company that makes the mozzarella cheese. Now let’s say that Bill owns the mozzarella cheese company, suddenly he has an increase in business, he is making and selling more mozzarella cheese so he is making more money. He also needs more raw materials to make his mozzarella cheese from because of his increased trade so he ups his milk order. Now let’s say Mary owns the Dairy, suddenly Mary is selling more milk, probably even needs to put on a couple of extra cows and is making more money so Mary thinks to herself, “You know what, I’ve always wanted to learn how to use Photoshop”. So Mary takes some of her extra income and spends it at my website learning how to use Photoshop.
And so it goes around, everyone is spending, the economy is stimulated and everyone has more money. Now let’s change one thing in this whole scenario, let’s introduce YouTube and the guy making the how to Photoshop videos for free.
Now Mary doesn’t need my website any more because she can get all the Photoshop how to videos she wants from YouTube for free. My website bombs and I’m not making my extra $400 per week any more so I go back to ordering pizza once a month. Mario has a drop in business, he isn’t making as much money or as many pizzas so he doesn’t need as much mozzarella cheese so he cuts his cheese order. Bill has a drop in business, isn’t making as much money or as much cheese so he cuts his milk order and Mary has to sell a couple of cows, is making less money and is complaining about the drop in business and how much money she is loosing and doesn’t even realise that she is partly responsible for her own drop in business.
And all of this because one guy decided to share and upload Photoshop how to videos to YouTube for free thinking he was doing the world a favour. He didn’t do us a favour did he? In fact he single handedly destroyed our 4 person economy. See it makes perfect sense when you understand how economies work.
So you see by sharing we are not being the Robin Hoods we think we are, we are not supporting the greater distribution of the worlds wealth. In fact, we are having the opposite effect. This kind of sharing actually takes money off ordinary people, it stifles the distribution of wealth and widens the gap between rich and poor. But if we all stopped sharing, if we all started paying for everything we consume and we all stopped giving our shit away for free then we would all actually have more money, we would be stimulating the distribution of wealth and the gap between rich and poor would be smaller.
If we just stopped sharing.