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Rushes Sequences - Doug Rushkoff interview - USA (Video)

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 13:03 UK time, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Doug Rushkoff is an author, teacher, columnist and media theorist. He met with the programme three ream to discuss the realities of 'free' content and services on the web. 

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(Please note that this transcript is the 'raw data' text we receive from a transcription company. It is a tool commonly used in production to facilitate editing and review the content. We publish it for users in that same spirit, rather than it standing as a 'perfect' representation of the content.)

Doug  Look at the devolution of-, the way we represent ourselves online has devolved from the quirky, personalised HTML webpage, homepage of the '90s, to the somewhat modular but still strange presence of a MySpace page, to the completely formatted and market-friendly presence of a Facebook page. You know, what we've done is moved from personal, human, open-ended self-expression to completely market and computer-friendly regimented and conformist expression. And that's because we've turned the net from a venue for self-expression, to a way to render ourselves up onto the market. You know, as a result the internet does not foster humanity, you know, the internet is about human beings conforming to the needs of technology as understood by the market, rather than human beings getting technology to extend and express what it means to be a human being. And that's why the net has moved from being part of a human potential movement to part of the, really, anti-human movement.

Intv A lot of content on the web is free, and that's largely advertising-supported. Do you think that Google helps to create the 'free web'?

Doug   Um, Google on the internet serves almost the same function as the World Bank in the globe. In other words, Google talks about everything being free, open source and all shared, Google wants every system to be open. But what Google really want is every system to be open to Google so that Google can serve ads through every piece of technology. You know, the same way that the World Bank says, 'Oh, we want to give money to all these developing nations as long as they open their markets to first world activity. That means, we're going to give them money so that they allow a factory to be opened on their land, you know, we're going to give them money so they have the privilege of paying us back with interest.' And that's um that's not just openness, that's openness to a certain thing. So, I must applaud the Google Android and this great system and it's going to be on phones and all that, but they want to be open for a reason, you know, they understand that because they do basically have a monopoly right now um information and the way it's spread and the way it's categorised, the way we understand it, that the more open systems they can have, the fewer boundaries that anyone is allowed to erect to anything, then the fewer boundaries there are to Google. You know, the-, there's a myth online that what we're doing is free. All that's happened is the place that revenue and value is extracted from us has been shifted. So yes, I might download a movie for free from the internet, but who's made that movie? Someone who's bought a Macintosh and a Sony camera, made their movie and edited it on Final Cut that they paid for, and uploaded it with their, you know, Time Warner AT&T broadband and stuck it on YouTube, which is a Google-owned server. You know, they've paid nine corporations for the privilege of making and uploading a movie that they would've simply paid for before, to download and watch the movie. You know what I mean? I'm still paying Time Warner for movies, I'm just paying them now to make movies instead of to watch them.

Intv So 'free' is a myth?

Doug  'Free' is absolutely a myth. The only thing that-, the only thing that's changed is that there are new ways to extract value from people who are working. Nothing is-, nothing is free, nothing is free. You know, you are paying for your free Guardian, you're just paying for it by buying the computer and buying the online time, and upgrading your system, and getting the new computer and then buying the computer for your kid, you know, and then paying for the power. You are still paying, you're just paying different companies. Sometimes you're paying the same company. Sony owns music and computers, so they're selling you one thing to rob from the other side of their company, you know, but you're still paying. The only thing that's different, is things-, the only thing that's changed is that which was in scarcity, and that which was in abundance. So, the technology through which to watch the news was in such abundance by the 1980s that there were no American television manufacturers left by the late '80s, because everybody had a TV, they all lasted a long time, it didn't matter. Now, everybody's getting a new computer every year or two, or a new device, and a new iPhone and a new this, there's a tremendous market for that stuff, but the content is basically free because there's so many people in companies out there trying to make content, trying to write their articles. 


Doug      there's a real danger among er technology and media theorists today, in that they accept the sort of libertarian understanding of the market as a given, in reality, that they just assume that that's the way things work. They haven't looked at the history of money. They don't understand that making markets for scarce things is the result of having a kind of money that is released in a scarce way. This is a better way of saying it; for all these people's understanding of open source and programmes, they refuse to acknowledge that the money we use is also a programme, that it is a closed source programme. It's as if you woke up one day and all the computers had Microsoft Windows on it, you wouldn't know that there's any other operating system. Well the money we use is also an operating system that was invented during the Renaissance, and it was invented for a top down scarcity model of media and culture and technology and everything. Now we've got a decentralised technological system with computers all over the place and people creating value all over the place, but we're still using a 13th century money system. So you end up with these contradictions that guys like Chris Anderson call 'free', that means all the stuff is free! No, it doesn't mean it's free, it means we need to now develop an economic platform capable of dealing with the distributed decentralised value-creation economy. And that's not that-, I don't think that's too complex for a documentary. I mean I think that's an im-, you know what I mean? I think that's-


Doug      Things are free and things are devalued now. I can't get paid to write because there's so much writing out there. But this is a temporary stage, this is not a function of technology, but a function of economics. You know, the crash that we're going through now, this upset in central banking, is largely a result of the ability of people all throughout the periphery to create value without capital. That's a really strange thing. In the old days, if you wanted to create value you needed to go to the bank, borrow money, set up your factory and do this thing. Now you can create value without going to the bank, without getting that central capital upfront. That's what's created the confusion, that's what's upset the banks. There's no longer a market for their product, which is cash, so what do you do? Well, there's big wobble until that's figured out, and that's why we have this problem of the free. And this is not forever. In other words, journalism sucks now, music sucks now, media sucks now, because everyone can kind of make this stuff. The only reason everyone can make this stuff is because there's way too many outlets. You know, every time Britney Spears pops a zit there's 400 news vans outside her house to cover it, you know, and probably two or three news vans could easily cover her popping a zit enough for everybody. You know, the fact that there's all of this surplus um that does need to end, and some people will lose their jobs over it, and hopefully it will be the people who don't do it well who lose their jobs over it and the people who do do it well can stay.


  • Comment number 1.

    Rushkoff makes some very interesting and valid points. The ethos of a 'free' economy and how that is changing our world is a constant theme in DigRev. Murdoch vs Google this week is a recent example.

    The Web economy is certainly skewed. Of the hundreds of millions of sites there are a few big hitters that appear to exert greater gravitational attraction the larger they become: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Flickr, eBay, Yahoo and a few dozen retail sector websites must attract most of the web traffic, advertising revenue and consumer spend.

    Apple has now managed to pull off the neat trick of manufacturing hardware products (iPod, iPhone) and supplying the content (music, apps) for consumers to purchase and download via its websites. Unlike a PC or CD player where the manufacturer got only one payment and content producers (software & record companies) then profited, for Apple the sale of a iPod is just the start of the consumer spending money, they hope to continue getting revenue during the lifetime of that product.

    This does leave all the other commercial sites in a quandary over how to monetize. Google does have the same agenda that Microsoft have been much criticised for*, of wanting to tie everyone to their products & services, but Google are just better at PR by going about it by giving them away for free; and then hoping people will add Adsense ads, Google search boxes, Google maps etc onto them

    The spat between Murdoch and Google is the latest symptom of this.
    One of DigRev's interviewees, Arianna Huffington, has a very good opinion piece on the future of journalism in the 'new media'.

    I am continually amazed by people's altruism, creativity, willingness to contribute, express their opinions (yes, even the Trolls) and proclaim 'I exist', 'I can contribute' and the human need to connect; but I have sympathy for those top % of thinkers, writers, photographers, musicians, artists etc (and they exist) that now find their contributions are not so marketable; after all, if all opinions (or similar photograph, music etc) can be sourced for free (if a little inferior), why should providers or consumers pay for it?

    Those that begin creating by offering content for free may become quickly disillusioned by realising that they have no chance of a career from their talents.

    Warhol said "Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes ". On the Web it may be reduced to seconds, but someone will still profit from that; the ISPs, the portals, the hardware vendors etc.

    The potential is there for the Web to massively enrich a few companies and individuals and greatly enlarge the size of the majority that are impoverished; and the amount they are impoverished by.

    Answers, I have none. But the Web is changing how the economy works, and consequently how society is structured and works; as Wozniak said in his interview, it may take decades, if not centuries, to see how this might work out.

    "We will add your individuality and your distinctiveness to our own".
    'Reasons Microsoft is like the Borg':

    PS. Some good interviews BTW. I do watch all of them; as I am sure others that have posted here do too.

  • Comment number 2.

    "You know, as a result the internet does not foster humanity, you know, the internet is about human beings conforming to the needs of technology as understood by the market, rather than human beings getting technology to extend and express what it means to be a human being."

    I see his point about user content being directed from free form web home pages to marketing friendly formats like FB. I also think this is a deeper point because of other implications.
    This is actually quite scary in some ways. Consider corporations which use the Internet to outsource jobs and function to the so-called low cost countries where workers are paid ~90% less. This massively exploits poor people and creates problems at the origin. This is one kind of "levelling" but only to the advantage of the super rich executives.

  • Comment number 3.

    @Paul Blackburn - Thanks for your comments (on this and other clips) - food for thought indeed. I think you're going to enjoy the next two programmes - all about the 'new economy' and how the web is changing human interactions.



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