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

What does this culture and technology of anti-spendism mean for the future consumption and valuation of goods and services?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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.

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.

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.

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