The Problems with Free
There’s a problem with free. Actually, there are many problems with free. Yes, I’m thinking of commercial services that offer things for free, open source ‘free’ and content you are 'free’ to use however you see fit, content that people feel 'free’ to lift, and then there are all those apps at near free that have us convinced that digital should be free… that information wants to be free!
Allow me to detail a few problem areas:
When it’s free from a commercial source, you are the product. .. insofar as it is your data – you as a string of data points for marketing – that attracts.
When it’s free from the open source world, programmers are not compensated. A-duh, you might say, they’re volunteers and they get to see their code in use, and they do it all out of the heartfelt and headstrong notion that code ought to be free, but…
When the value of things digital is perceived to be costless, the actual cost of products and the salaries of those who create things is reduced or has to be made up elsewhere. Songs are worth .99! (or steal them) and ebooks have to be under $10 (or just dig around bit torrent until you find it).
When it’s free, will we care who made it, about all the people who make things all the way along the supply chain, what care they put into it? Or will price be the sole arbiter, driving wages down to as low as possible. (Think Mechanical Turk and see this.)
When it’s free, we open ourselves to cybercriminals who eagerly spread free code or evil-twin hotspots hoping to trigger our greed.
No doubt there are many good reasons for open source, not least of which is a form of self-determination and the possibility to extend the code, but the side effects of driving people to want the lowest price, the free, and to believe that digital is without cost, have gone largely unexamined.
We’re several digital years into the “information age” and since those are like dog years it’s high time to start critiquing the state of play.