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How lack of convenience turned a generation into thieves

August 30, 2011 · 3 comments

Yup, some people will disagree with this.

First, think about that button on the microwave that automatically sets a common time and starts the microwave. On mine, it’s one minute. Just press it, it automatically starts and runs for a minute.

Everyone I’ve ever asked almost exclusively uses the “instant time” button on their microwave as well, instead of setting a particular time. Even when it means they have to stop it before its overdone. The convenience of a single button press with almost no associated thought is very compelling.

Online, music piracy became very popular for many years. Many companies tried to come up with non-piracy services, none very convenient. Eventually Apple combined the iPod/iPhone (and now the iPad) with  iTunes and tons of people found it convenient enough that people began to pay happily for music. Many of them the same people that pirated music previously.

The hidden story, of course, is about all the salesmanship Jobs used to get the music industry to take a chance on Apple, and how he later pushed back hard against music companies that wanted to change the pricing, saying in effect “we set the pricing, not you” and kept it at 99 cents. And how Jobs & Apple’s huge success dragged the music industry into a different kind of business model.

And over time, the music industry began allowing more websites to have more flexible ad- and membership-supported revenue models.

So today, there are a lot of choices that people feel are convenient enough that online music piracy is much less sought-after. The problem is, legal online music was too inconvenient compared to pirated online music for too long, and people began to justify it.

The generation that used online music piracy because of its convenience began to say “music should be free.” And just like previous generations, they talked about how unfair the music business was to artists, and how they didn’t care about the consumer. Lots of truth was told, but the “music industry is unfair” never equated to “stealing is ethical” before. That is, not until online convenience made people begin to justify their behavior.

Something that is:

  1. Easy to do;
  2. Has no consequences;
  3. Has no prior social norms about it (is new).

Will almost always be justified by many people as okay to do.

Think about it this way: If online piracy of music was not possible, and everyone was issued a convenient device (think  iPod/iPhone/iPad) for paid music accessing, how many people would be complaining that music should be free?

It wouldn’t even come up.

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