Okay, there's all this chatter about 'free' these days, what it means, what its effect is and will be on The Economy, very confusing chatter, I might add, whether coming from the techno-savants or The Free Market Boys, a lot of it on-line, some of it in print, precipitated mostly by Chris Anderson's book -- book, get it? -- called Free, in which he enthuses over the concept and postulates a future of free, a future that already lies panting at our virtual doorstep. This chatter poses a problem, it comes at you so rapidly, words, phrases, assertions of fact, slogans, High Concepts, inconclusive anecdotes, overlapping ideas, contradictory studies, it comes torrentially, like a veritable Niagra, and it comes so disintermediatedly (how's that for a big, fat, ugly neologism?), fresh from the farm, as some would say, or perhaps even better, straight from the top of the head, that it poses a problem: how do you filter out the nonsense without losing grasp of the meaningful argument contained therein?
In other words, how do you pan for gold in this particular stream? The stream being the Internet, this network that allows for anything to be broadcast at any time for practically nothing. Free. This beautifully complex human construct which serves chiefly as a conduit for porn, self-promotion, buying and selling, prophecy, and disinformation. Well, first you have to buy the necessary equipment. (You can buy a panning kit for $11.95 -- I've seen them online.) Then you set up camp close to a stream where people have found gold already, so you know it's there, then you go down to the water, kneel, pray you've picked the right spot, and start panning. When you find your first sizeable nugget -- remember that persistence pays off and that there really is gold down there in the sediment -- then you go into town, convert your stash into cash, and get pie-eyed drunk over at the Klondike Lounge. Madame Coocheecoo is counting on your business.
Mr. Anderson is amusing, clever, and smart, but he gushes in that same oily manner as Joel Osteen does, down there in Texas. At first I thought they were gushing about two different realms, you know, the one scientific and rational, and the other a little less so, but no, now I don't think so, I think they are gushing about the same thing: a future of free. Whee! One big free-for-all. Whee! Then again, it's pretty difficult to make heads or tails of what they're gushing about, because they're just so...well, gushy. The word 'turbid' comes to mind. Or is it 'turgid'? Or maybe both?
If you're looking for meaningful text instead of gold, then you'll need to get yourself an editor, who will likely cost you more than $11.95 although there's a legion of them available these days. Skilled people whose knowledge and tact is worth its weight in gold. I think Seth Godin -- another enthusiast prone to grand pronouncements -- gets it right when he writes, "Editors [will] become powerful and more valued..." In other words, expensive, not free. Hey, poot, I found a nugget in the stream. I bet you can too if you keep at it.