It’s hard to swallow that the Internet, a wondrous creation replete with promise, far from democratising culture and ushering in a new golden age, is actually doing exactly the opposite. That a kind of digital deforestation has been going on, involving the wholesale degradation and destruction of once thriving cultural eco-systems all over the planet.
All to benefit … a tiny elite – a remarkably homogenous group, composed of libertarian right wing speculators, investors, and inventors working in the tech industry.
They have built their wealth by parasitically exploiting other people’s creations, and convincing consumers that art is, or should be, free. A siren call that’s been enthusiastically taken up and turned into a bedrock sense of entitlement by a generation of freeloaders.
In the process, a large section of the population, cultural or creative workers, have seen their livelihoods shrink dramatically or disappear. This is not the natural evolution of history and society. It’s been a thoroughly mediated development, an entirely cynical and calculated strategy pulled off by Big Tech companies.
The cumulative negative effects on society have yet to fully manifest themselves. Artists have been at the forefront, the canaries in the mine, but to most people, artists are of no serious consequence.
That’s because most consumers lump artists into two broad categories – either filthy rich and overpaid, or gutter trash who deserve obscurity for not making the first category.
These stereotypes flow directly into behaviours like pirating and illegal file sharing. When you’re driven by envy or contempt, it’s easy to skip empathy.
The truth is that MOST artists belong to neither category. They are just like any other ordinary worker. They occupy (with increasing difficulty) a middle level, where art is a job, requiring hours of concentrated toil, every day, and that brings in a living income, maybe, probably, not much; but enough to get by, so that artists can focus on their art. Yes, art actually takes time, and practice – by which I don’t mean learning, I mean ‘doing’, which you can’t do if you’re trying to hold down a ‘real job’.
So real artists are people, just like everyone else, who do real things, and flourish, or not, depending on how well they do it, and how many people are interested in paying them for it.
Or, that’s how it was. Because for the last fifteen years, the crusading monopolies dominating the Internet have done their best to convince everyone that art should be free. And if it’s not for free, they have just gone ahead and helped themselves anyway.
So artists – writers, musicians, film makers, basically anyone who makes products that can be digitally cloned, are being marginalised and ruined, along with all the people who depend on them.
How? By the countless daily bad choices of ignorant or uncaring consumers, who have drunk the poison Kool Aid offered by the cynical liars in Silicon Valley. They fail to see that at the end of the road they have chosen to ride free, will be an arid desert, leading to a cliff.
The following is a short list of enlightening books on this topic. They’re highly engaging and non technical. Warning: they will make you gasp and reconsider all your prior assumptions.
All these books are available on Amazon’s Kindle store, which is a pretty thrifty and easy way to legally purchase books, so the Internet isn’t all bad!
No, like the fire of Prometheus, as Shelley said, the Internet is simultaneously beautiful, and terrible. The problem has been the unmediated introduction of a technology, without adequately considering its implications. Now more than ever we need to wake up to the true potential of this tool, and ask ourselves, who is it really benefiting, and at what cost to everyone else?
Andrew Keen The Internet Is Not the Answer
Scott Timberg Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class
Robert Levene Free Ride
Chris Ruen Freeloading
Astra Taylor The People’s Platform: Taking back power in the digital age