A few weeks ago I was asked if I knew of a decent podcast app my friend could pipe idiots talking bollocks about nothing into her ears through. Pausing for a couple of deep breaths, I turned to the computer and pressed roughly 19 buttons to establish that the best such app out there was something called Pocket Casts. Tens of thousands of users, rave reviews, and not a bug in sight.
She thanked me for my skill at using the internet, all too rare in these days of increasing dependency on the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But there was a problem.
“It’s £1.49! Fuck that!”
If a piece of work is worth having, it’s worth having for nowt, and so say all of us in the age of entitlement. We want to use technology to rip off the very people we wish we were – clever, inventive, far-sighted creators of things – and woe betide any of those creators who think their work is worth the price of a ham and cheese slice twice a week.
Nobody sees the irony in worrying about how their kids might survive the next economic apocalypse without having to suck a dick or two, while simultaneously proclaiming their right to have software developers, journalists, writers and musicians create material for a lower wage than the Polish fruit pickers Britain lately seems so worried about. “They put it behind a paywall? How dare they?”
Because I can get my hands on something for free, it is by definition worth less than the labour I wouldn’t consider giving away for nothing. I can procure a musician’s entire back catalogue for the price of a few mouse clicks, but if you think I’m distractedly moving these numbers around this spreadsheet for an hour, while thinking about the pub, for anything less than a pony, you’re a despicable capitalist tyrant and WE. ARE. THE 99 PERCENT.
The logic is astounding. If our vast army of office workers deserve to be paid for spending whole days imploring clocks to get a fucking move on, perhaps people who make things we actually enjoy should see a penny or two lobbed their way. At the very least, the next time you’re bemoaning spending two quid on an app or a tenner for an entire month of nearly all the music in the world, have the humility to understand you’re helping to create a world where Leigh Francis and Ariana Grande can shovel their muck into us without fear of the gallows.
And never doubt where this is heading. We are entering the era of ‘internet content’. I’ve been a jobbing writer in the past, and know full well how many people are out there begging you to toss off article after article of ‘7 Brilliant Tricks That Every Gardener Should Know About’ solely to lubricate people’s passageways for the smooth entry of advertising. You’d learn more from the Wikipedia home page than you would from all this rubbish combined but, of course, that won’t sell the stylish sofas and energy-efficient blinds that prop up the house of cards at number 2016.
Talking of Wikipedia, remember the last time you saw their periodic ad asking for donations, and you shut it without thought? The most amazing repository of information we now have, and the idea you’d help keep it going with a small sum strikes you as ludicrous. When it can run on fumes no longer and gets hoovered up by Rupert Murdoch, pat yourself on the back when the article on the Armenian Genocide is replaced by a travelogue of Jamie Redknapp’s trip to Yerevan interspersed with ads for Paddy Power.
You’re being naive! Why would we pay for something voluntarily? We can get it free and use our money to buy more things that can’t sate us! We can never have enough to fill the hole! And if you feed a cow a burger, no matter how sick it gets it’ll be hungry again in time.
I’d be Pinnochio’s bitch if I said I didn’t ever download things for free. I pay for new music near-daily, but anything I’m not sure about I’ll download illegally to see if it’s any good. If it is, I’ll get a ticket for their next London gig. I download obscure American TV shows because there often seems to be no viable way of getting them legally, but I’d hardly get the DTs without them. I download films, because any really good films I’ll have paid to see at the cinema anyway, and besides, the DVD player bust that time I put Vic & Bob’s House of Fools in it and had to kick it to death.
If you turned off the free supply of everything, I would happily continue with my policy of paying for things I actually want or have a use for. I’d have less, but I’d have plenty. Can we honestly say in 10, 20 years from now, anyone will think that way? If we insist on demanding creativity for nothing it will wither, and we’ll be left with Dad’s Army on repeat while machines write the next great work of literature, entitled ‘Police Pulled Over This Man, You Won’t Believe What Happened Next’. And don’t forget, they’ll have privatised the BBC by then and Bake Off will be presented by a vlogger and sponsored by Shell.
Picture a man in a suit, and picture the busker he dismisses as he strides past. Which of the two does society value the most? And which of the two is making the world a brighter place? There’s the rub.
Pay up. You don’t earn entertainment by virtue of being bored all day. You don’t get things created for you for nothing because Jean from Accounts banging on about that overdue business case is stopping you from writing your novel. The world doesn’t owe you a thing just because your life’s shit.
Just because you can get something for nothing, it doesn’t mean you should.