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What will be free?

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August 02, 2005

What will be free?

Stephen Baker

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, sitting in on the Lessig Blog, is asking readers to come up with a list of 10 things that will be free. (From Doc Searls) This is for a speech he'll be giving in Germany. Readers have suggested wireless broadband access, Ivy League education (online), operating systems, and more.

I would add a wrinkle to the speech and list 10 free things that will not be free. Drinking water is one example. I remember living in Europe years ago and thinking that with time they'd be able to drink from the tap, like us. Little did I suspect that we'd follow their lead and pay for bottled water. Another far more contentious free/not free realm is speech. That one is too long and thorny for a blog post, but have at it in comments.

06:57 AM


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? Free To Be from The Association Blog

Wikipedia’s founder is asking for a list of “ten things that will be free” (people are suggesting operating systems and Ivy League education) but Blogspotting turns the question around and asks for “ten things that won’t ... [Read More]

Tracked on August 2, 2005 09:33 AM

Free? What's the objection to being honest about where the subsidizing is coming from?

Labelling something as "free" is simply a cynical marketing ploy.

Anything can be made free... just find a way to subsidize it. Such shuffling is not comparable to creating value.

I would encourage more emphasis on "fair payment for fair value".

Or, as a backup, how about "Fair disclusure of the true costs and sources of subsidy for that which is marketed as 'free'"?

If we wish to plan ahead for the computing and communication infrastructure for the coming decades, don't we need to have a handle on true costs? Mislabelling services as "free" is very misleading.

If Wikipedia is "successful" due to the voluntary efforts of technology "workers" who are grossly underutilized by society, what happens if the population of such workers shrinks or society discovers ways to properly economically value their capabilities? The thought that there are business people who think they have some kind of inherent "right" to "free" labor is truly horrifying. I have no objection volunteerism for charitable and strictly social causes, but exploiting under-employed workers for what might be economic value for a few elites is a horrifying prospect, even if the participation appears to be voluntary. But again, hidden subsidies prevent true understanding and propagation of economic signals. Focusing on free-ness is not a particularly insightful approach to getting a handle on the future of technology and society.

-- Jack Krupansky

Posted by: Jack Krupansky at August 2, 2005 12:18 PM

Stephen : Over here we don't say "we live in Europe", it doesn't make sense to us. You can live in Britain, or France, or Ger..... Only if you live in Brussels can you possibly imagine that you live in Europe. :-)

Posted by: John Evans (SYNTAGMA) at August 2, 2005 01:17 PM

Well, John, I'd agree with you about Britain. Long ago, I lived in Spain under Franco. That too seemed barely connected to Europe. But I never had any doubts about being in Europe when I lived in France. Plus, I have to say that with the euro, the cell phones, the Internet and the spread of English as a common language, Europe--despite the country-to-country squabbles--seems (dare I say it?) like a much more unified place than before.

Posted by: steve baker at August 2, 2005 01:38 PM

Jack's comments not withstanding (he makes a good point), hardware will not ever be "free" in the sense that Steve means in his post.

Attention is never free, the price paid is time.

Posted by: Michael Martine at August 2, 2005 02:05 PM

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