Needless Things

We went to the rugby at the weekend. Samoa were playing the USA in a game at the Brighton AMEX stadium. Outside the ground, people in bright clothes were selling all sorts of things, including the thing you’ll see attached to this guy’s ear:


It’s a radio that lets you listen to the commentary, or listen to the referee talking to the touch judges, players and TMO during the game.

It helps you understand more about what’s going on. Fair enough; it’s an interesting augmentation of the experience.

The guy had a phone that could have done that, though. Everyone in the crowd did. They could have made an app. Set up a locally hosted web server. Made it available through something like TuneIn. There are probably fifty different ways they could have streamed the audio to the devices we carry around with us anyway, and not needed to make or supply any other devices.

Except I suspect none of those ways would have let them charge £10 per person for doing so.

The economics of the physical object is still intrinsically understood by the vast majority of people – ‘oh, you made loads of things, but if I’m to own one of the unique things, I need to give you money‘.

There’s still something about ‘digital’ services that means people wouldn’t pay. ‘Oh, you’re doing that anyway, I’m not paying that. It should be free…‘.

But it’s produced by as much ‘physical’ labour. People who make it happen (who you can’t see). Devices and connections working hard (that you can’t touch).

Until we work out a way to sell the general principle of digital distribution of physical effort, we’ll face two problems.

Firstly, we’ll be unable to charge sustainably for things to keep them going.

Secondly, we’ll continue to make more physical things where we don’t need them, in order to make money.

How do we get over the atom problem?


2 responses to “Needless Things”

  1. Ben Sauer avatar

    I suspect there’s an inherent rationality to not paying as much for digital things; people understand they’re not scarce. We’ve imposed post-scarcity economics on something that’s *mostly* not scarce.

    1. john v willshire avatar
      john v willshire

      Yeah, it’s almost as if we know ‘the game’, and so see it as a chance to get back at people who’ve overcharged for previous physical products (hello, record industry). I wonder if that’s a generational thing, at least in part?