If I long for a particular dish or want to take the mail-coach because I am not strong enough to go by foot, money fetches me the dish and the mail-coach: that is, it converts my wishes from something in the realm of imagination, translates them from their meditated, imagined or desired existence into their sensuous, actual existence – from imagination to life, from imagined being into real being. In effecting this mediation, [money] is the truly creative power.
Karl Marx, The Power of Money, 1844
Son, no one gives a shit about all the things your cell phone does. You didn’t invent it, you just bought it. Anybody can do that.
Shit My Dad Says, 2009
When we buy something with money we have earned, there is some of the same sense of satisfaction we would get if we had created it ourselves. Karl Marx is right, and Shit My Dad Says is wrong – the hours I spend slaving over a hot computer for Regus made me the money to buy my phone, and the right to feel as proud of its features as if I played a part in its invention. Our work in our day jobs, as Marx understands, ‘converts our wishes into sensuous… actual existence.’
When something is free, we get none of that sense of ownership. The infinite free music collection offered us by the Pirate Bay does not give the same sense of personal pride as a few dozen CDs we accumulated in the pre-download days. Other cloud services – even the ones we pay for – have the same problems. Spotify is something you borrow, not something you own.
So when we offer a cloud service, whether it’s free or paid for, we need to give people a sense of participation.
Amanda Palmer has one answer – ask people to give up their money and time, and they will. It’s a fair transaction. A few dollars in exchange for a sense of real ownership:
The route that Amanda Palmer uses won’t work for every industry. It won’t even work for every musician: you can fund ‘Punk Burlesque’ this way, but I don’t see the next Straight Outta Compton or Dancing Queen coming from Kickstarter. But this still looks like the right way to think about getting things funded in the future.
All those industries being disrupted by digital and cloud services, whether it’s taxis, publishing, music, offices, journalism or bed and breakfasts need to remember the same thing: people want to spend because by spending, so long as it is acknowledged in the right way, they get to feel ownership.