Our Co-Founder Kristina fell into an intellectual rabbit hoIe of sorts and delved into understand NFTs early this year. I have today learned about NFTs, and so I’m writing this to think through their implications on value-driven economics.
Humanity invented ice cream BEFORE inventing freezers.
And that is the whole story of value-driven economics.
People try to come up with grand overarching theories to either drive the future or analyze the past. We only have this moment to live in, really. In this moment, everything is just the mess of human nature.
Human nature does two things:
It follows its appetites.
And then it attempts to make capital gains on that.
We invented ice cream before the freezer. We did it this way not because we lack foresight. People could tell within a few minutes of inventing ice cream that they’d need something to preserve the integrity of their invention. Technology tends to trail its needs, though. Invention reacts to appetite.
The Wild West
We are good at finding quirks. If things haven’t been explored to the edges, then people with the time find the quirks. Some of us like to know because we just like quirky things.
Some people create Napster.
I have mixed feelings about Napster. I’m a writer. What I make could be reproduced indefinitely, cheaply, and then given away (or, as the case may be, sold) to anyone who asks. Someone could invent a Napster of written works (already done, many times over) and cut me out of the distribution circle. For as long as they don’t get caught, or they can protect their actions by some veneer of legality, it could go on forever.
I feel like in this era, I don’t need to go deeply into Napster. I think we’re all familiar with it.
What’s interesting to me is living in a post-Napster world. The phenomenon of Napster put in stark relief a whole host of questions about creative works, and in especially creative works that exist mainly as digital information.
There are a handful of ways to come at the question, but the one I find keeps me busy is this one:
Is it wrong to share digital copies of intellectual property?
It’s a fearfully dull question, and it has a lot of heart-breaking implications. Most of them I won’t get into here. I’ll talk about one, but only for a few sentences, because I know how to speak to it.
I’m a novelist. I have one novel and a collection of short stories out. In practical terms, that means there are two files full of what I made using my skills and my time, and they are in the world and ready to be consumed by people like you.
The other thing they are is easy to steal. The most crude and straightforward way to do it would be to purchase a copy of the ebook from Amazon for two dollars, and then spend a couple of days typing out a copy yourself. Now you have a full copy of your own in a distributable format, and it’s possible for you to do whatever you wish with that. I give no permission to do it, but that is a way you might steal my books. Then you could give them away for free. You could say you wrote them and you could sell them. You did, after all, do the work necessary to copy and distribute those books. You have done some demonstrable work. Work deserves reward.
And I’m just a writer: I could always write more stuff. As a creator, I’m always creating. That might be your justification. I’m always creating. And how hard could it be to actually write a book, anyway?
So why is that wrong?
IS it wrong?
And if it is wrong, then how come it has a less visceral impact (and I predict that it does) than this story:
You are a builder. You’ve just finished building a house. It’s your dream house. You spent twelve years learning how to build that house, learning and dreaming, and you made a lot of smaller things along the way, to practice your skill. Then, after those twelve years when you spent all your time and half your money on your education and all that practice, you started building that house. It came together well! It only took you three years. Not so bad, considering it’s your first serious try at building a house. This house, that you spent twelve years learning how to build and three more years building, stands now finished in front of you. The product of fifteen years of labor and education and many, many resources has come together. Now you are ready to step over the threshold for the first time and live in your house.
When you get inside, someone else is already living there. They know you built it, but they decided to live there. They’re already planning a house warming party, and you’re not invited. Not only are you not invited, but you get to move into the tent set up in the yard.
Feels weird, doesn’t it?
That’s basically what happens with Napster, though. Napster had a goal to democratize music, I think. It’s a noble enough goal. Music should unite us. Everyone should have it as an option.
I chose those lengths of time for that house because that’s what I spent on my collection of short stories and my novel. Yes, I was doing other things at the same time—eating, breathing, etc. But nobody does only one thing.
Some of us spend everything we have on making “intangibles.”
It’s a strange thing when the value we imbue into them turns out so easy to dismiss.
Intangibles is a weird word, from where I sit, after all the work I’ve done.
Looking over the history of intellectual property in the digital age of information makes me put on my science fiction writer’s hat. I think the most useful definition of a science fiction story is “a story that needs some idea or result of science in order to be told.” So, like, Singing in the Rain or Hunt for Red October.
Our relationship with intellectual property has been the story of our relationship with this conundrum: is stuff on the internet “Real”?