How to make the Internet pay

On the 11th March 2013, Internet pioneer Jaron Lanier appeared on Channel 4 News, where he shared his views on the future of the Internet, with veteran news reporter John Snow. His interview was published on the Channel 4 News website, prior to the airing of his insightful chat. Renownd as a “digital prophet” who first coined the term “virtual reality”, Jaron criticizes the second generation of the internet, commonly referred to as Web 2.0, for its ideology of free accessibility. He explains that by jumping into the social media experience we have overlooked something important. We have given information about ourselves for free.

In his book “Who owns the Future?”, Jaron calls for a fundamental change in the digital world, where the current situation of a few corporations at the top profiting from all the information we blindly hand over to them, free of charge, should be replaced with a system involving some type of compensation for the user, reflective of the information’s value to the corporation who uses it. It is because of this that Jaron refers to the internet’s top information barons like Google and Facebook as “spy agencies”.

Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier. Picture credits: Channel 4 News.

Jaron admits that was an initial advocate of the openness and freedom of Web 2.0, but explains that the naivety of this belief has caused us to sleepwalk into our current predicament, where the person with biggest machine in the network of computers, is able to vacuum up more data than anyone else, becoming the dominant player. And as capitalism has arrived late to the table in the Web 2.0 world, individuals and small companies now find it either difficult or impossible to sell information.

Jaron warns that without some type of action being taken, the middle class could simply disappear leaving the big dogs with the biggest computers at the top, with all of our information. What, in it’s conception, was intended to be a democratic tool, has backfired. This is the cost of “free”. Jaron has avoided social media and describes it as a fools game.

I would also add that our demand for instant information gratification, and habit of moving from page to page and site to site so fluidly, has caused us to habituate the clicking of checkboxes of every user agreement we encounter, without a giving a thought to actually reading the document. So many people have handed over their copyright ownership of some of their most personal thoughts and memories, in the form of their words and sometimes precious photos.

Jaron shares his solutions about how the monetization of the information economy could be achieved. When describing the monetization of information, Jaron uses CCTV cameras as an analogy of big super-sites storing our information, and explains that a system in which we could be paid for every time we were filmed, could introduce more balance, helping to break up information monopolies. For more information about the interview, please visit the Channel 4 News website.