Why I love Free-dom

by Eric Hamilton

If you’re offered something for free, take it whether you want it or not“.

For my first entry into r4nt, I’d like to talk about my love for freedom. Or rather, free-dom. I love getting things for free. Is it the fact that I didn’t have to pay for it or the fact that someone cares enough about what I think to give me their product for nothing? Either way it feels pretty damn good. At the University of Victoria where I spend a large proportion of my time, I can go into the Business and Economics building and pick up a copy of the National Post for free. Granted, it’s not the newspaper I would buy if I had the choice, but if they’re handing out free propaganda I’ll be first in line to take it. There is also the student newspaper, the Martlet (paid for by student fees, but if that fact really irks you, you can get a refund cheque for $2.75 that covers your share of the newspaper’s budget. No joke.) This seems to be a common theme with newspapers: myriads of free ones. The Georgia Straight, Monday Magazine, Offbeat: all are free arts and entertainment magazines that are as entertaining as the ones you have to pay for.

Once in a while, career fairs come to the university with all sorts of private and public sector employers who are more than willing to hand over free things. Pencils, pens, highlighters, notepads, lots of free goodies. A deep-pocketed corporation like Microsoft might put on a presentation or a networking session where there is plenty of pizza for all. And as you might have guessed, it’s free. I just stand around long enough to be offered something. This is a tactic I have mastered.

For me personally, getting things for free gives me an aversion to paying for certain things. I cringe when I have to fork over money for a cover charge. Just what am I paying for? The right to spend $30 worth of alcohol? The right to breathe the air inside your club? Is it better than the air outside? I know there are pretty girls in there but they aren’t the only ones in the world. But if you come in before or after a certain time, or if you’re of a certain gender, you get in for free.

If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. Well as a sociology major, I think it’s about time I put my tools of analysis to good use. I’m going to tell you what this free stuff does to our societal values and how it affects things like, say, criminal behaviour. Think about the internalized set of values that would kick in if you pocketed a and walked out with it, and actually got away with it. That uncomfortable feeling would come not just from a fear of getting caught, but from not wanting to take something you didn’t pay for and rip off someone who’s just trying to make a living. Hopefully you would feel bad about shoplifting. What if “stealing” something were as simple as clicking a mouse?

Life got a lot sweeter for the free-dom loving individual after the advent of the Internet. Free software, pirated movies, and of course, Mp3’s are all available without too much difficulty or technical know-how. We all know about the music industry’s relentless crusade against the evil of Napster, now all but forgotten even though it occurred a mere short year ago. I would imagine now that all attempts to stop Internet swapping of music files have all but stopped. This is partly because the new systems like KaZaa, Morpheus, Audiogalaxy, etc. all allow users to trade directly between computers, bypassing the sticky technical copyrighting laws that felled Napster.

The other reason is that to do so would be futile because of the new standards that our generation has about what should and should not be free. I have no qualms whatsoever about taking someone else’s work without their consent and using it. I acknowledge that my position is indefensible by any logical argument, but also know that I have been socialized to expect that computer software and files should be free to anyone who wants it. When Microsoft practically begs me to upgrade Internet Explorer or download critical system files, how can they make such a loud noise about pirating? The division between upgrading software on the Internet and pirating software on the Internet is so very thin. We are confused about why they would want us to have some stuff for free, but hire legions of lawyers to try to stop us having other stuff for free. All I know is that it’s been a great many months since I paid for computer software of any kind.

What I recommend to the monopolists who attempt to stop us from taking free stuff is this: recognize that giving something away at no cost doesn’t always build an appetite for paying for things. More often than not, it makes paying for things even more distasteful than ever before. Creating this culture of free-dom ended up costing them in the end. Why did they act surprised when we got used to it? Haven’t they seen video clips of people smashing windows of electronics stores and making off with the loot? Ah, the sweet smell of free-dom.

  • Why I love Free-dom
  • by Eric Hamilton
  • Published on May 1st, 2002

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