Thursday, 6 May 2010

The true equaliser of all persons is not our liberation movements

Over a century ago, a chap called Karl Marx dreamt of a world in which all persons would be equal and have a share in the prosperity afforded by capitalism. He noticed not so much that workers were 'exploited' in the sense of necessarily being underpaid; rather, he was concerned with their lack of access to the products of their creativity. Man, Marx decided, was inherently a creative animal, and the true exploitation of the worker lay not in, for example, their being overworked and underpaid, but rather in that the capitalist owned the means of production, and used the worker to produce goods which the capitalist would then sell. As such, the workers never had any ownership of the items they created, and did not benefit from their sale. It was as if the capitalist's role was to sell off little parts of his workers. It is in this that the worker was truly exploited.

I think, nowadays, Marx would be dancing a jig with glee, and I think I would join him. Because computers and the Internet are going to destroy capitalist elitism for good (well, unless we revert to the stone age somehow). Why do I think this?

Consider this. Prior to the Gutenberg printing press, the owners of the means of production (of books) were priests. Priests controlled the flow of information. As such, the era humanity lived in was known as the "dark ages", because the light of knowledge could not shine; the only data available to the masses was the waffling and lies of priests. Gutenberg changed all that. In fact, Gutenberg was the beginning of the enlightenment. Granted, the book he printed was a Bible, which was one of the implements of theocratic oppression, but people rapidly realised that you didn't only have to print copies of the Bible. With the printing press, knowledge was seized from the priests and passed on into the hands of anyone who could afford a printing press or anyone who could afford to pay someone who owned one. Shortly after, the Protestant revolution took place; people could now disseminate their anti-catholic ideas to a wide audience.

We are now entering a similar phase. Up until now, only the extremely wealthy could afford:
  • A movie studio and actors
  • An orchestra
  • Art college
  • A printing press and book binder, or a publishing house.
 With products like Apple's iMovie, Pixar's Renderman, YouTube, Apple's Garageband, Digital Cameras, and Lulu.com (respectively), these things are now in the hands of the masses. Within ten years, I believe, movie studios and actors will be redundant, because we will be able to simply make 3D-rendered puppets on a computer to act out the movies we want. Then we will tell the computer to render the movie on Renderman, say, and then edit it in FinalCut or iMovie. We will then place the movie on YouTube and hear Hollywood's screams of anguish as its profits go down the drain. Furthermore, with peer-to-peer filesharing, the file will be copied off YouTube with something like KeepVid.com, and shared amongst friends. So dissemination of the movie will be free. Profitability will have to come in with product placement advertising inside the movie (think of I,Robot with Will Smith — ("Are those Converse All-stars you're wearing?").

The same applies to music. We can now make our own music, orchestral or rock band, or whatever, on Garageband, and place that music, perhaps as a music video, on YouTube, or just upload it as an MP3 to any site and let people download it. Or we can sell it via Apple iTunes and avoid the recording companies altogether. Or let people share it via P2P networks. How can we make money though? Well, we can still give live performances and concerts! So the recording studios are facing their doom. They will only be able to hunt down music pirates for a few more years before they're bankrupt. But they cling ever so desperately to their monopoly, using legal threats. The masses will not be deterred. The record companies are finished. Like Marie Antoinette, they're saying "Let them eat DRM", but they must adapt or die.

With digital cameras and Adobe Photoshop, we no longer are beholden to artists and/or patrons of the arts for funding to exhibit our work. With companies like FineArtAmerica.com, anyone can be an artist and exhibit his or her work for free on Internet.

Ditto publishing. Companies like Lulu.com have completely put the control of the publishing and dissemination of information in the hands of the masses. At first, the gatekeepers of knowledge were the priests. Then they were the printing press owners. Then they were publishing houses and universities. Now, Wikipedia owns knowledge, and Wikipedia is written by the masses. A layman has as much authority on Wikipedia as a professor. It's knowledge by consensus. Of course, this is not perfect, and this means that popular misconceptions can be disseminated; but what's new about that? The priests have been disseminating misconceptions for thousands of years. They still make the most outlandish statements as if they were matters of fact, without so much as a hint of shame on their faces. No longer will people have to jump through hoops of fire to get past arrogant editors and their ideas about what will constitute a good book or a good piece of writing. Just as blogging will destroy journalism, so will companies like Lulu bring Penguin and others down. The revolution is upon us!

Our creative endeavours will now be judged not on the whims or likes or dislikes of an elite of priests, publishers, art patrons, banks, movie studios, record companies, etc., but rather purely by market forces. If your work is good it will sell. If it is arbitrary, it won't sell. The Internet truly shows what people want and what they will buy. The difficulty or obstacle to a creative person of the future will not be arrogant publishers and distributors, but a 'needle in a haystack' or 'wood for the trees' problem: how will you, as an individual, be seen amongst all the millions of other people who are doing the same thing that you are? And therein will lie the future value of publishers, record companies, movie studios, etc. Their only hope for survival is to make a point of actively seeking good public content on Internet and using their financial resources to actively promote a specific content item.

Technology and information, as I said in a previous post, is the true key to liberation and equality. In the future there will be no more hero-worship of Hollywood movie stars or JK Rowlings; we will all be able to digitise ourselves and become famous. Technology is the true leveller of all people. We will all only have one Facebook page.