From “information wants to be free” to “the false ideals of the web”

In the first iteration “information wants to be expensive” before “information wants to be free”, says Stewart Brand.

In fall 1984, at the first Hackers Conference, I said in one discussion session:

“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable.  The right information in the right place just changes your life.  On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.  So you have these two fighting against each other.”

[….]  In The Media Lab (Viking-Penguin, 1987) on p. 202 is a section which begins:

Information Wants To Be Free.  Information also wants to be expensive.  Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine — too cheap to meter.  It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient.  [….]

The final iteration … on an overhead, [at] a national Computer Security conference):

Information wants to be free (because of the new ease of copying and reshaping and casual distribution), AND information wants to be expensive (it’s the prime economic event in an information age)…  and technology is constantly making the tension worse.  If you cling blindly to the expensive part of the paradox, you miss all the action going on in the free part.  The pressure of the paradox forces information to explore incessantly.  Smart marketers and inventors quietly follow — and I might add, so do smart computer security people.

Since then I’ve added nothing to the meme, and it’s been living high, wide, and handsome on its own.  “

Originally from “The history of ‘information wants to be free'” | Stewart Brand, at

Jaron Lanier describes a trap between the sharing through individual choice, and the consequences of the way that networks function:

We, the idealists, insisted that information be able to flow freely online, which meant that services relating to information, instead of the information itself, would be the main profit centers. Some businesses do sell content, but that doesn’t address the business side of everyday user-generated content.

The adulation of “free content” inevitably meant that “advertising” would become the biggest business in the open part of the information economy. Furthermore, that system isn’t so welcoming to new competitors. Once networks are established, it is hard to reduce their power. Google’s advertisers, for instance, know what will happen if they move away. The next-highest bidder for each position in Google’s auction-based model for selling ads will inherit that position if the top bidder goes elsewhere. So Google’s advertisers tend to stay put because the consequences of leaving are obvious to them, whereas the opportunities they might gain by leaving are not.

Excerpted from “The False Ideals of the Web” | Jaron Lanier | Jan. 18. 2012 | New York Times at .

The perspectives of the content creators, as opposed to content consumers, is further addressed by Peter Jones:

Kevin Kelly,Wired, Free culture have created an environment where a few people earn a lot and a milliion people create stuff for no return. In the past they would have sought some compensation — now we have a strong culture valuing free consumption. And it is not a generous culture. It is a cheap future in a world where IT has already swept through and streamlined our once-thriving creative and technical jobs in several technology waves.

Could we re-envision that future where creative people earned a living doing what they loved, and Google and Facebook were able to split some ad money to the content producers? Rather than selling our “free” work as advertising fodder?

“What Jaron said …” | Peter Jones | Jan. 19, 2012 | Design Dialogues at