My talk at Lift seemed to go down quite well but I remember leaving the stage thinking of all the things I'd meant to say; my own fault for trying to cram an hour of stuff into 20 minutes. So I thought I'd try and elaborate on some of it here. This post is what I meant to say while standing in front of this picture of one of Roo and Leila's tapes.
Earlier in the year I'd heard Clay Shirky talk at SXSW - it was an incredibly helpful set of thoughts and had me thinking about sharing and physical stuff in a way that hadn't occurred to me before.
He referred to Why We Cooperate and talked about three modes of sharing and why they're different.
Sharing Goods - the hardest to do, because if you give a physical good you no longer have it, you're deprived of it.
Sharing Services - like giving helping someone across the road - you don't lose out on physical stuff but it's an inconvenience.
Sharing Information - like giving someone directions - you don't lose stuff, it doesn't take much time, no inconvenience.
And, crucially, he points out, we're taught all the time that sharing is good. We get hits of pleasure when we share things with people. It's neurological and social. We like to share.
So when Napster came along and changed music sharing from a Sharing Goods process to a Sharing Information process we didn't all suddenly develop criminal tendencies. It's just that sharing, which we're inclined to do, suddenly became way more convenient. And as he said and someone twittered "We have a word for not sharing if there’s no cost to you: that word is ‘spiteful.'" The music industry is not battling against a generation of digital criminals, it's fighting a bunch of kids doing what their parents have been telling them since they were two - sharing nicely.
That, to me, was a hugely helpful and accurate framing of what's going on with sharing on the internet.
But it also got me thinking along a tangent.
While talking about Sharing Services Mr Shirky mentioned mixtapes - a way of sharing your music without giving away your records, but not very convenient to make, a sort of intermediate step on the way to Napster. But having just seen Shift Run Stop's tapes of their episodes (so, I guess, not strictly mixtapes) I immediately started thinking not about the inconvenience of a tape, but about their embedded value.
A mixtape is more valuable gift than a spotify playlist because of that embedded value, because everyone knows how much work they are, of the care you have to take, because there is only one. If it gets lost it's lost. Sharing physical goods is psychically harder than sharing information because goods are more valuable. And, therefore, presumably, the satisfactions of sharing them are greater. I bet there's some sort of neurological/evolutionary trick in there, physical things will always feel more valuable to us because that's what we're used to, that's what engages our senses. Even though ebooks are massively more convenient, usable and useful than paper ones, that lack of embodiedness nags away at us - telling us that this thing's not real, not proper, not of value. (And maybe we don't have the same effect with music because we're less used to having music engage so many of our senses. It's pretty unemboddied anyway.)
And that made me wonder if that's why people are liking Newspaper Club so much? Are we getting close to some sweet spot where you get the satisfactions of sharing a physical thing but with the convenience of sharing information. Is that what you can get when you add Digital Sharing Technologies to Physical Manifesting Technologies?
We're not there yet. We're probably only at Sharing Goods like Sharing Services but even that seems like a step forward. Maybe that's why making your own book feels so right, maybe that's where we need to go next with DataDecs, maybe that's what Shapeways and Ponoko will enable, but I think there's something in this.