#2. The Future Will Turn Us All Into Lars Ulrich
I picked the example with the ebooks earlier for a reason. As I mention every chance I get, I have a book on store shelves, a novel about monsters and dongs. It's in paperback now at the reasonable price of $10 or so. It took me five years to write it. But let's face it: If you want a digital copy of it for free, you can get it. The scarcity that would require you to pay money is purely a product of our collective imagination. John Dies at the End is 350 pages of FARTS.
Also, the binding glue causes leukemia.
This is the basis of that huge fight between Amazon.com and the largest book publisher about ebook prices. Nobody knows what to charge. We just kind of have to arbitrarily decide, because after the first copy, it costs nothing to make them.
Meanwhile me, my family, the bank what owns my mortgage and car loan, the IRS, the grocery store where I buy my food, all are hoping the same thing -- that you won't notice that free copies of my book are floating all around you. Soon, the whole world will be nursing the same hope.
That's what ACTA is about. This massive worldwide treaty would bring the hammer down on anyone violating intellectual property laws. Everyone on the Internet hates it because we know it 1) would have to be incredibly invasive, to the point of basically peering into everyone's hard drive at any moment for signs of contraband, and 2) is futile. It's a leaking ship trying to stay afloat by threatening the ocean with its cannons.
"Avast, ye big blue cockbite!"
And for what? To protect the profits of huge corporations and record labels and freaking Activision? So Metallica's irritating anti-piracy crusader Lars Ulrich can buy a plane made of platinum instead of gold? So some hack writer can buy a monkey and train him to ride a tiny motorcycle? Fuck you!
But remember the dog and the fence. The world has changed. For everyone. I'm in the same boat as Lars Ulrich. But so are you.
Here's hoping one of us brought Febreze.
Lars makes money selling his music. You make money selling your labor. At some point down the line, like his music, your skill as a human being can and will be converted to an electronic format for a fraction of the cost, rendering your skill worthless.
Work at a GameStop or some other video game store at the mall? The next consoles will download their games directly, no store needed. Work at a video store? Same thing -- Blu-ray is probably the last physical media we'll ever see. Work as a cashier? Forget self-checkout lanes taking your job -- soon they'll have RFID systems where customers can pile groceries into a cart and wheel it out the door, and sensors will bill their debit card on the fly. Work at Starbucks? What are you doing that a machine couldn't do? Work for the post office? You're just a human spambot at this point -- more than half of all mail is now unwanted junk that goes directly into the trash, because in a world with email, direct mailers are the only profitable customers the Postal Service has left.
That bag is where he keeps his vodka and spare shame.
Note that I'm intentionally listing service jobs here, because almost none of you work in manufacturing. Those jobs have already been outsourced, often to robots.
Thanks to technology, much of the labor is about to become to employers what Internet porn is to you now. Post-scarcity. And it gives them just as much of an erection.
So hate ACTA all you want, along with the MPAA and the RIAA. But you, like them, are getting paid in FARTS.
#1. Only Bullshit Will Save Civilization
And so, here we are. We're celebrating that we don't need to pay greedy corporations because technology means we can get more and more of what we want for free, but at the same time, we're moving toward an era when corporations won't need to pay us. Both of us are hoping that in the future people will, for no tangible reason, simply choose to pay. If you work at Gamestop, both you and corporate are hoping for the same thing: that people will just 1) arbitrarily choose to pay for their games, and 2) choose to get them from a human.
Due to... nostalgia, I guess?
And no, don't give me that old line about, "If you do good work, society will always be happy to pay for it!" I live on the Internet. I've seen how that works. I've seen too many of my favorite websites go under because they were so popular that the traffic crashed the server, but PayPal fundraising drives brought in nothing but the sound of crickets. If people got paid according to the inherent value of their work as measured by the satisfaction of the consumers, Achewood wouldn't have to beg for donations.
No, a "pay what you choose" system eventually becomes charity, and we humans only hand out charity when we're in certain moods, or have extra money. It's no substitute for commerce.
You have time for either art or panhandling. Not both.
But I'm not just talking about a paycheck here. Human society only exists because we need the things other humans produce. Mutual need is what made us gather and share resources and form the first villages. We need things, and we need other people to need the things we make so they'll be willing to give us the things we need. It's a cycle that has been running for thousands of years, and it's about to stop.
And so, to save society, we're going to have to rely on our old friend, the invisible force that has saved humanity again and again. It's a little thing I like to call bullshit.
Bullshit is the next growth industry. People who deal in it are going to be more valuable than surgeons -- yes, the same people who convinced us that bottled water comes from an enchanted mountain spring and made uneducated mothers believe that contaminated baby formula was a life-giving health potion. Only they can save us.
As civilization advances, these heroic protectors of FARTS will build a culture where we will pay for things we can get for nothing, based purely on a vague superstition that it makes us better people. You know, the way an Apple logo will hypnotize people into paying twice as much for a product when cheaper alternatives litter the landscape.
And if someday we do perfect cold-fusion reactors or nanotech manufacturing and everyone has 100 GB/second Wi-Fi connections downloading data into a computerized contact lens, the bullshitters will be the guardians of the Old Way, convincing you that you shouldn't use those shoes that your replicator spits out for three cents a pair. You need to buy their shoes, for $80. Because they're handmade.
Maybe they'll build the concept of "paying just to be paying" into a new morality. Or a new religion -- one based entirely around FARTS.
Well, unless we figure out something else.
David Wong is the Executive Editor of Cracked.com and a NYT bestselling author. You probably don't know that his long-awaited new novel is out right now at Amazon, B&N, BAM!, Indiebound, iTunes, Powell's, your local bookstore, or anywhere else books are sold!
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