Cognitive Surplus – Chapter 4

Opportunity

It has never occurred to me to wonder why people spend so much time contributing to all these online communities. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LOLcats, Wikipedia. I don’t know, they just seem like things that people get interested in or have a passion for, and so they do them. The concept of used time didn’t really enter into it for me.

Honestly, how much time does it take to post a Facebook update. Or a Twitter update. Or share a picture on Tumblr. Or make a picture on LOLcats? Not very long. Okay, Wikipedia updating probably takes more time, but if you’ve ever seen one of their fund-raising banners, you know that most of them do it because they love it. And I think at the root of all of these social communities is love of it. They LOVE the inter-connectedness. They love sharing funny things with their friends. They love keeping people informed.

In that respect, “free” doesn’t even enter into it. Cost has no meaning when you have the means and the opportunity to do something that you love for free. In fact, I’d wager to say that if its something you really love, you wouldn’t be above paying to do it. Like someone paying for a lane at a bowling alley. Or when I pay a range fee at my local archery range. In that respect I agree with Shirky. There is no disbelief that someone would do something so far-reaching for *gasp* FREE!!! I’m right in line with his theories of opportunity. The motive is there, the means are there, grab that opportunity with both hands and run with it!

The difference between “why do they do all that on YouTube?” And “why do they do all that on YouTube for free?” for me means that someone has placed value on something someone has put together and posted for free rather than try to market their time and abilities. Take for instance Mystery Guitar Man, one of my favorite YouTube personalities. He makes music with anything. And I mean anything. Bags of m&m’s. Random paint cans laying around. His body. Whatever he finds really. He started out making videos for absolutely nothing and a small following. Now he has millions of followers and he makes shirts and stickers and sells them. But the videos? Still completely free. There’s even an app for your phone you can get that lets you watch his videos in HD. And it notifies you every Tuesday when he posts a new video. Now compared to some of the crap you can find out there, his videos are pure gold. And he makes them, spends a week on them, and posts them for free. Why? He loves making music. He loves the interaction with his fans. So much so that he asks his fans for suggestions of what songs to make into videos. He’s the very definition of this chapter. He has the motive (he loves to make music), he has the means (musical and editing ability, a good Internet connection and creativity for days), and the opportunity. I can’t imagine a world where he charged for his videos.

He is a quintessential Gen-Xer. He saw a niche, and he filled it. But honestly, if the same means were available back when the Beatles were starting up, or Elvis, who’s to say they wouldn’t have done something similar. Our actions aren’t necessarily just because of what generation we were born in, but by the tools that are available to us in our time. Here’s a question for you. Do you think if Elvis or the Beatles had had YouTube, could they have gotten more views than that awful Rebecca Black song?