Tom Hodgkinson: 'Every time we upload a thought or a photo, we give our creativity to the digital overlords'

 

Share
Related Topics

Why are we so poor? My idea when I was young was that one day I'd turn into a member of the Idle Rich, or the Idle Comfortable at the very least. I would make a living from my own vita contemplativa. But this didn't happen. Instead, I find myself a member of a quite different class, the Busy Poor. I work my butt off writing, teaching, organising events.

Yes, I am one of the lucky ones in that I survive. But I don't really make any money. Dr Johnson wrote that, "No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." It seems that I have turned into a blockhead. And this week I have discovered why. It's the internet's fault.

This is the conclusion reached by Silicon Valley über-geek Jaron Lanier, the dreadlocked inventor of virtual reality and author of two books, You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future?. Janier's thesis – and I tend to trust him because he very much writes from within the tech industry, having sold start-ups to Google – is that the creative classes have made a big mistake.

Encouraged by the hippyish idea that "information wants to be free", they have been manipulated by giant private companies into giving away their creativity for nothing. Every time we upload a thought to Twitter, an update to Facebook, a film to YouTube, a photo to Flickr, or one of the many other consonant-dropping money-making schemes out there, we devalue ourselves. We give our creativity to the feudal overlords who own the biggest supercomputers. They then sell us to advertisers and buy supercars, yachts and islands. We are the product; the advertisers are the customer.

I did try to point this out in an essay I wrote on Facebook in 2008. Facebook is big business. It is an ad-sales scam. Like the other big tech companies – Lanier calls them Siren Servers because of their seductive powers – they create a system where the user provides information, which is then sold to advertisers. We are the suckers.

Lanier points out that the rise of the Siren Servers, with their fortunes for the very few, has coincided with the gradually increasing poverty of the creative classes: the musicians, photographers, authors and journalists. The only areas where you can still make money are the uncreative professions, which are still ring-fenced by guilds: the law, medicine and the civil service. Parents of teenage offspring tell me that their kids want to be doctors not because they have a burning desire to make people well, but because it is one of the last middle-class professions that actually pays.

The tech sector advertises itself as a great place for young people to get involved in. But how many actually make it? As Lanier correctly points out, only a tiny but well-publicised fraction of YouTubers will ever make a living out of uploading their clips. It is the same with that other false holy grail, the app. The myth of a teenager working in his or her bedroom and making a million is precisely that: a myth. The one or two who make it are the exceptions.

So who then actually makes money from blogs? Only the aggregators, the lords of the digital manor, who coin it in while selling a dream of self-sufficiency to vain fools. We are digital serfs, doffing our caps and handing over a tithe on all we create, or paying a fee to use the mill.

The new landlords of cyberspace, like the landlords of old, are profoundly uncreative. They just own stuff. Their own companies are completely bland and free of character. They take no risk. They are the boring middlemen. Hedge funds have worked out a similar strategy: a kind of cold, amoral approach that buys and sells at the right moment without any interest in the thing that is being produced.

The internet promised freedom and self-determination. It has delivered a new super-rich elite and an impoverished middle class. It is no coincidence, says Lanier, that the tech giants have thrived precisely as the global economy has tumbled into recession. We need to fight back. We need to create a new yeomanry.

You don't have to sell your soul. But if you do, at least demand a good price.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore