Free of charge – the most expensive word in the world


“Don’t miss this extraordinary offer! If you buy (enter the name of the first product), you will get (enter the name of another product) for free!”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? You will probably hear these sentences in different variations, no matter which shop you enter, or what is sold there. Not to mention operators from call centres who buzz you time and again on the phone. Even they, more or less, only repeat what you can hear the very moment advertising block starts on TV. “Free” is an indispensable word even in leaflets and few catalogues that are still put in your mailbox, which usually end up in trash without even being opened.

I know, many of you will say – you are obviously more “experienced’’ than you are ‘’beginner’’, as this is the description of your generation. Young people don’t watch television anymore, their mailbox is in their phones, and they rarely go into the shops made of concrete and glass.

I agree, but it doesn’t mean that there is nothing for free in that online world. Not just that there is; there is more for free than ever before because the customer of today pays for all those free products in the most valuable global currency of the modern world. Of course, we are talking about data that we ourselves leave, using all those services at our disposal, literally at hand.

We know how it works, so we won’t discuss about a few big companies that gather, pack and sell those data to advertisers for a good price, who then, with the help of powerful algorithms, send the personalized adverts and offers for products and services back to us, which we buy, content for their precise guess that it is just what we need at the given moment.

We will deal with another dimension of the free. Free is much more than a just good deal. When you pay for something, no matter how the price is affordable, it is about the transaction, a business relationship in which you exchange one value for another. When we are offered to get something, and not to give anything in return, the level of our emotional satisfaction is, as a rule, far higher and different from that when we buy something. As a consequence, our wish not to miss the opportunity becomes stronger. When Amazon first decided to test free delivery for European countries, the number of orders dramatically increased everywhere, except in France, where, due to a technical error, delivery stayed 10 cents per package. Of course, the error was quickly corrected.

Therefore, we are less prone to criticize what we got for free. We often say to ourselves: “Well, maybe I don’t need this… but I got it for free, so why not, it might be handy at some point.” And then we add a famous saying: “Anyway, as people say — never look a gifted horse in the mouth’’.

It is understandable that we weren’t aware that we ourselves became products which are sold by big companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter. However, after the Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when millions of Facebook users’ profiles were hacked, fines that Google had to pay for unauthorized use of personal data of its users, along with the campaign for the implementation of the GDPR procedures, we don’t have the excuse anymore.

If this is so, why there is no decisive action to arrange the whole matter appropriately, aside from the fact that there is still no appropriate global legal framework, which would regulate this area? Obviously, there is no real wish of us, the users, to change things here.

The main reason for this lies in the fact that the network of these services represents the new media world in which we live and where we are no longer only passive media content users, but we have become its active creators. The whole world can now read what I think of a world problem, the whole world can see what I had for lunch yesterday and how much fun I had last night, the whole world is now following my every step. I like everyone to know everything about me, I love even those who hate me, because they actually envy me, and this is what I especially like… I’ve become famous! Until yesterday, I could only dream about it. I could read about the celebrities in newspapers and watch them on television. And now, I’m one of them. And, it’s priceless. And then, what if everything I google, post, attach, like, favor and share somebody collects and processes? I don’t mind. So what if I give them all this information for free? Glory has no price.

The industry of entertainment and culture of following celebrities, which is an integral part of it, is much older than the information technology that shapes the contemporary media world, in which we live today and which has changed all aspects of communication, from the trade market, political, marketing to personal. But this culture decisively determines our behavior in this new media environment. It has prepared us and led us to use new technology to feed our own ego and develop a sense of our own importance. The key reason why this has become the form of a mass phenomenon is the fact that we can now do it simply, quickly and for free.

Thanks to this, the essential nature of our position remains hidden or, at best, consciously suppressed. Even when we hear or read that data is becoming more and more valuable, and because of that, they get the status of new oil and that a couple of companies make a great deal of money on them, we will not change the behavior and we will continue to provide merchants with free data for their resale. And since we haven’t been paid for this job, hence we’ve been in the slave position here.

And while we are laboring like slaves, we are pleased that we are mutually connected so well, confident that we are just having a good time, contributing to free algorithmic profiling of our own personality, based on which the information we have access is selected, which constantly narrows the space of our freedom. In addition to this, more and more precise offers for the products and services we buy are formed, unaware that these decisions are less and less our free will, and more and more accurately predetermined reactions based on our previous behavior. When we add the increasing number of mental functions (memory and orientation are only the most obvious examples of this) we transfer to a device that we carry constantly with ourselves and from which we never part, our addiction to technology is growing every day. This process is unstoppable and the development of artificial intelligence further accelerates it. Thanks to all this, insensibly, but increasingly, we are becoming robots.

Is the blend of slaves and robots a picture of a man of future, which has already begun? Only those who build such a future can give us the answer to this question. Even if we identified them, I’m afraid that they wouldn’t be in a mood to provide answers on this matter, even if we offer them to do it for free.

Instead of waiting for an answer that we will never get, it would be better to start thinking about what we can do ourselves to stop this trend. If it’s not too late…

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