Kevin Kelly: What can’t be copied?

Former Wired editor Kevin Kelly has a very perceptive essay up that is apparently part of a book he’s working on called Technium, and in it he describes the Internet as a giant copying machine — a network that distributes information far and wide, and in the process of doing so copies it over and over, creating an almost endless supply of identical copies, all of which effectively cost nothing to produce.

Our digital communication network has been engineered so that copies flow with as little friction as possible. Indeed, copies flow so freely we could think of the internet as a super-distribution system, where once a copy is introduced it will continue to flow through the network forever, much like electricity in a superconductive wire.

The problem, of course, is that giant industries — music, movies, media and entertainment in general — have been created based on the idea that copies are scarce, and that control over the methods of distribution of those copies is the key to wealth. What happens to those models when copies are readily available and free? This is something Mike Masnick at Techdirt has also written about — the economics of abundance. How does that work?

Kelly argues that when copies are free, you have to focus on what can’t be copied. Trust, for example, which has to be earned over time. He has a list of eight qualities, or elements of intangible value that he calls “generatives” — things that have to grow over time and can’t be copied, and therefore should (theoretically) be worth something. They are:

— Immediacy
— Personalization
— Interpretation
— Authenticity
— Accessibility
— Embodiment
— Patronage
— Findability

I think Kelly has put his finger on something important. Each of these qualities is going to be worth different amounts to different people at different times, depending on their needs, or wants, or moods. It makes things somewhat more complicated than just charging people when they go through the turnstile at the movie theatre, or when they buy a physical product, but in the long run I think they could actually create more value. It’s worth reading the whole essay.

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