Saturday, December 29, 2012

The tragedy of the common internet

Often when discussing file sharing, the notion of the tragedy of the commons is invoked. Often as an argument against it - the one person having access to most of human culture is no big deal, but as more and more entities gain this access, stranger and stranger things start to happen. In the end, tragedy occurs.

For those of you who for whatever reason might want a reminder of what the tragedy of the commons is all about, here's the gist of it: imagine a public space, open for everyone. Any one person using it won't make that much difference, so the implicit imperative for any one parcitular person is to use it to the max. Which, eventually, leads to a critical mass of people using it to the max. Which, in turn, ends in tragedy, as the usefulness of this public space is diminished or even destroyed, due to everyone overusing this public space.

The implied relevance to the issue of file sharing being that even though the one person engaging in it can be written off as collateral damage, the effect of the multitude of people doing it is a radical shift in consumer behavior that will destroy the common good. Which, according to this logic, means that any and all cultural activities that also happens to be a commercial enterprise will in effect shrivel and die because no one is willing to pay for anything anymore.

Why pay for anything when everything is free, right?

Wrong. Evidently wrong, too. My proof for this claim is as follows: the internet exists.

This is the entirety of my claim. The alpha, omega and all in between. Nothing added, nothing subtracted - this is it, in sum total.

So, what does it mean that the internet exists? And, moreover, that it has existed for so long that those born on this side of the millennium bug don't know what a world without it looks like?

It means that the fact that people are still willing to pay for culture is a brutal argument against the validity of the invocation of the tragedy of the commons. Because - and be sure to notice my stressing of this point - even though most of what's produced in terms of commercial culture is available for free these days, people still pay for it. And, moreover: if you ask them about it, they will most likely tell you that this is the right and proper thing to do.


Can we get past this moot point now, and get back to the business at hand? There's a whole lot of business going on on this internet thingy, after all, and I dare say that most of it has something to do with culture -

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