Hell no, we won't pay: How technology transformed our perception of value

Hell no, we won't pay: How technology transformed our perception of value

Summary: What does this culture and technology of anti-spendism mean for the future consumption and valuation of goods and services?

TOPICS: Cloud, Innovation

Open Source. The backlash against Software Patents. Cloud Computing. Bitcoin. 3D Printing. Post-PC. Cord-Cutting. Electric Vehicles and Alternative Energy. 

There are ideological and social drivers that are unique to every single one of these things, and yet there is a common thread that ties them together. I call this trend "anti-spendism".

Anti-spendism is not necessarily a social movement that is tied to the betterment of society as a whole. It's not like socialism or communism, where we are talking about a desire to more equitably distribute wealth to the have-nots.

It is by definition, the personal, self-centered desire not to expend capital at all. Or to put a more modern take on it, rapid advances in technology have so lowered our perceptions of what things should cost, that ultimately many goods and services have become devalued far below what people are willing to pay for them.

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To put it bluntly, anti-spendism is "Hell no, we won't pay" syndrome.

And while a case could be made that thriftiness in the trade of goods and services has always existed, even before money itself existed, there has never been a time in our history where thriftiness has overwhelmingly been driven by technology itself, or vice-versa.

The rise of FOSS

It is difficult to say where this all began, but I suspect that it emerged as a confluence of events beginning with the rise of the Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) movement in the late 1990s which planted the seeds among the technorati that you could get something of value (Software) for free.

This was followed by a crippling global recession in last ten years — from which we are only now just barely beginning to recover — that has created such a mass reluctance to spend and a devaluation of goods and services on a global scale. 

FOSS may have had other (some say worthy) objectives, but the primary reason why it has been adopted above all else is that for many small startups, it was a cost elimination factor.

While the use of FOSS is not a panacea for cost reduction in every circumstance (in many situations the total cost of ownership is actually higher) the fact that Free and Open Source software is free to use still remains its primary selling point.  

The movement towards Software Patent and Patent reform overall is also a product of the Free and Open Source Software movement, out of a desire not to pay licensing fees and royalties.  

Next, Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing, particularly when combined with Open Source, takes anti-spendism to the next logical conclusion, which is the desire not to own or spend money on physical infrastructure.

Why buy servers, storage, networking equipment, or even applications, when it can be consumed in incremental, miserly fashion?

Yes, there are other drivers behind Cloud, from both an enterprise standpoint that include self-service, rapid provisioning and service automation, as well as from a consumer standpoint of having access to all of your data from all of your devices.

The only difference is we are now replacing cheap humans with even cheaper software automation.

But ultimately, Cloud is driven by a desire to reduce cost, and the price of Cloud Computing, be it IaaS, PaaS or consumer or enterprise-focused SaaS, is now driven by what seems like a race to the bottom by the respective public cloud vendors.

The industry's transition to Cloud also represents anti-spendism in the form of the devaluation of the skilled labor that runs data centers and IT support infrastructure. Prior to Cloud, we saw beginnings of that with strategic/offshore outsourcing.

The only difference is we are now replacing cheap humans with even cheaper software automation.

Bitcoin: Here's another anti-spendism poster child. Why trade goods and services of tangible value when instead, you can make money out of effectively nothing (CPU/GPU cycles) — thus buying goods and services for free?

It could be argued whether Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have staying power or will ever be truly embraced by mainstream society; and again, there are other reasons for Bitcoin's existence. But the main value proposition is independence from the global financial system and pointing the middle finger at big banking and government currencies. 

3D Printing, like Bitcoin, is another disruptive anti-spendism tech. While it is true that — in the case of both of these technologies — there is an initial seed investment (PC with GPU card, 3D Printer) as well as a cost of supplies (electricity, plastic polymer), the perceived value of what is produced far exceeds the initial seed cost and the recurring costs.

Additionally, as technology improves and the "means of production" become cheaper and more efficient, Bitcoin and 3D printing further devalue the goods and services industries they disrupt. Why buy from someone else when you can print it? Why use real money when you can create it out of thin air on your computer?

Post-PC, another example of anti-spendism tech

Post-PC is another good example of anti-spendism tech. Because of the tablet and ARM-based processor technology — using heavily consolidated, reduced bills of materials in overall components — we all know what we think computing devices should cost: $500 or less for a full-sized tablet, $200 or less for a small one. And we expect smartphones to cost $200 or less on a subsidized basis.

It would be easy to blame the Post-PC device manufacturers such as Apple, FoxConn, Samsung and Amazon for that, but ultimately consumers drive this trend. 

My favorite anti-spendism tech lately is cord-cutting, or the practice of giving the middle finger to your cable TV company. Cord cutting combines a cocktail of cloud services, streaming devices and residential broadband to deliver your video content, so that you pay as little for your TV service as possible. 

It's easy to get angry at the cable companies because the perceived value of what they are offering is far, far lower than what many people are willing to pay for it, particularly if you do the math on your own and realize what you could get by buying things from streaming services piecemeal rather than by paying a big monthly cable bill.

And if it is any indication, cable TV providers are probably some of the most universally hated companies on the planet because of their awful service. So get used to cord cutting. It's a thing, and it's gonna be big.

Hence, the proliferation of those that seek the path of the Netflixes, the iTunes, the Amazon Instant Videos, the Hulu+, the Redboxes and the TiVos with the Over-the-Air antennae. I myself have become a recent convert.

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And oh yes, the Aereos. I should probably include Skype, Google Hangouts, OOMA and other VOIP services as well. All products of anti-spendism.

The future of anti-spendism

Electric Vehicles and alternative energy sources are probably the the next wave in anti-spendism, although these aren't perfected, mass-consumption technologies yet and they aren't necessarily more affordable right now.

Those who embrace them are inclined to do so for ideological reasons of being green, not so much for overall cost concerns, although for some it is a side benefit.

However, as with other emerging technologies like 3D printing and cryptocurrency, it may be less than ten years before there is a huge backlash against how much money people are willing to pay for automobile fuel, if we assume the price of oil is going to continue to rise.

If the cost of electrical vehicles can be brought down closer to conventional combustion vehicle prices, and ultimately, the cost of recurring electrical charges over the life of the vehicle as well as maintenance is also proven to be significantly lower than their conventional counterparts, then we have an anti-spend disruptor in the making.

Has disruptive technology ultimately devalued goods and services in the last ten years? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Cloud, Innovation


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Part of the problem is...

    ...if people and organizations don't have as much money to spend as they once did, then people are almost forced to be cheapskates. Wealth in the US appears to be much more concentrated than it was when we were younger, which means that while some people have more inflation-adjusted dollars to spend, most have fewer; hence the need to economize, despite a much lower savings rate.

    It would be nice to have $10,000 to spend on a commercial UNIX workstation, but I don't have that kind of money, so I have to settle for a $300-$500 Linux PC instead (and not very often).
    John L. Ries
    • That and...

      ...nobody owes commercial firms a living; or alternately, no firm is morally entitled to the public's business. They deserve to make money only to the extent that they can provide goods and services to people more economically than they can get from their own efforts, either individually or collectively. If what the cable company provides isn't any better than what someone could get from a combination of broadcast TV, video rentals, and Internet services, then it doesn't deserve to stay in business and municipal governments would be well advised to lift its franchise so someone else can try to do better. Similarly, if the local professional symphony orchestra can't put on concerts that are sufficiently better than what amateur groups can do to justify the much higher ticket price, then it doesn't deserve to stay in business.

      Your own employer seems to be slowly learning this lesson, but it still has a long way to go.
      John L. Ries
      • For digital goods

        The ability to get things for free (through less than legal means) completely unbalances the self-correcting way an economy SHOULD work. No creator benefits when they get nothing for their work, unless they add in subscriptions or some other recurring cost, but people tend not to like those.

        Of course, none of that applies to things given away for free in the first place.
        luke mayson
        • I didn't say anything about copyright infringement...

          ...and I believe in following the law to the best of one's ability, except in the very rare circumstances (here in the USA, anyway), where it conflicts with conscience.

          I think copyright terms are ridiculously long and overly restrictive; and there is lots of evidence that people will create all sorts of things without any expectation of payment (and do-gooding does have some mental health benefits), but I am actually in favor of a modest copyright system geared toward encouraging the creation of new works (along the same general lines as the 1789 Copyright Act, but updated to properly handle modern technologies, and probably without any limits on renewal...otherwise, there would be no getting it through Congress). That said, life +90 (or even life +50) does nothing at all to encourage creation of new works (if anything, it does the opposite), and does have the unfortunate effect of taking works out of circulation that would otherwise be freely available (a cozy system for commercial publishers who are thus partially protected from competition with the public domain) and I have my doubts as to some of the usage restrictions the law currently allows.
          John L. Ries
          • copyright has gotten way out of control

            I refuse to by any software, music, movie, concert tickets.
            Starve! you cost too much!
          • buy vs by

            by is not the right word, it is used completely differently as your message as written by you, you go to the store to buy groceries.
          • oops

            When you set out to play grammar police and pick nits from others, you need to proofread your own post to ensure that there is no plank in your own eye.
          • semantics

            much of what this article is about is environmentalism, and we can all hope that using less becomes the norm as we have a 6 billion people who are over-running the planet, who also have a lot of time on their hands and give some away. things may be on the right track. Enhancing corporations bottom lines isn't a priority anymore.
            sparkle farkle
          • Re: semantics

            Hell yea. too many folk on this world. You step off first.
            Funny that to get the technological break throughs they estimate the petrol engine took billions of man hours. Just to get the material science and everything else took 3000 years. We have too many people?

            Economies of scale make things possible. The big advances need more brain power and sharp competition of intellect. That is why Obama has the right thoughts on more graduates.

            We need fiber optic to every home in the USA so that the humble pc siting at home can be used in distributed computing. Sounds crazy but fibre optic has unlimited bandwidth limited by the pc.
          • Sure

            So, you work for free? You give away all your products and/or services?

            I want you to work for me.
          • Sure are spot on bb_apptix

            bb_apptix you hit the nail on the head.
            These cheap Charlies have a detestable double standard. They want to get paid for their work but pay no one for theirs.

            Try running a Linux Distro company and see how many people force you to provide free tech support after they already got your OS for free.

            99.99% of the users on the Internet are these double standard Ass oles.

            Guess what happens if you don't give them free support?

            Yup they post horrible blogs everywhere on the Web and destroy your reputation unfairly.

            In the end cheap Charlies are going to have code and Tech support themselves which they can't do.

            They are just screwing themselves over.
          • I prefer to pay

            So I pay for Office 365 and Acrobat, and donate to shareware that I use regularly. I certainly wouldn't subscribe to a music service that pays nothing to the artists even if they only charge 10c per track. Hopefully there are enough ethical computer users out there to give the developers a profit.
          • RE: I prefer to pay

            Well if more folk had decent paying jobs. They would too.
          • All depends on what kind of an ass you are.

            If they offer decent suggestions, you might consider accepting them.

            You can even organize them into doing the support for you.

            But treat them like crap, and that is exactly what you should get.
          • RE: sure sspot on bb

            Well , when the upper management get all the money and the rest work for slave wages. Then 99% can't afford sh+t.

            The minimum wage needs to be raised the top wages especially in government capped. The 401ks fund managers need to be socially responsible and not pay the management crazy cash.
          • In that case

            ...you will get what you pay for.
          • Re: In that case

            You get what you pay for? Ah so CEOs and other fanciful ass+les running the corporations into the ground are good value?

            You must live in an ivory tower.
          • Rather work for non-profits.

            It is a much better return that what you provide.
          • Concert tickets?

            Concerts are the surest way of supporting the music creators.
            big red one
          • You'd bee surprized how many good shows go bankrupt

            While the ticket reseller (legal scalper) takes a fat margin on every admission.