Media and communication

Bringing back the gift economy

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The technical development of modern society has entailed what we might call a new discovery of the gift economy. Sociologist Peter Kollock (1999) described the gift economy as driven by social relationships in comparison to a market economy that is driven by price. A gift economy means that social relations and norms is what drives the individual to freely distribute things or services instead of the capitalist way with agreed remuneration in the form of money. The concept of gift economy focuses on the economic system that exists in a gift culture.

The digital media has provided new opportunities for the gift culture. The culture that developed in premodern societies were focused on relationships and depended in large degree on who you were, what family you came from and how they were perceived by others. But the Internet as a communication medium offers a relatively anonymous interaction, no central authority and a difficult sanctioned forum (Kollock 1999). The giver addresses in the digital world an audience he or she does not know and vice versa, but the gift in its traditional sense is based on a producer not being anonymous. Yet the Internet is created by a gift culture.

The difference between the traditional gift culture where a person did an exchange with another is that the Internet allows you to give to someone you do not know or a group rather than an individual. This might make the reciprocity, of the gift difficult. Say you post an informative video about how to replace the memory on a Macbook Air on Youtube. Besides the information being valuable for Macbook Air users, you do not you know who or how many will receive the information. It is also not likely that they who received it will have something to offer you back. However, a larger group of users might have some information that could be valuable to you in the future and it may therefore be worthwhile to participate in the gift culture. But with the Internet’s possibility for anonymity the medium can also mean that the gift culture in its traditional sense focusing on social relationships must be developed. Some donors may require some more tangible reward or return for their contribution. There is a trend today where we see how authors and artists publishes freely work on the Internet as a form of marketing that will lead to for instance more lectures booked or sold concert tickets. Musician Timbuktu released songs for free distribution via file sharing page The Pirate Bay which may have been a marketing strategy by creating attention for the upcoming album and concert tour (Andersson & Christensen 2010). The work itself can then be seen to lose value in today’s connected society while the creator however can become a form of brand that gets higher value and that can be rewarded, reciprocated for their gift, in other ways than the traditional.

On the other hand, the digital world has meant a focus more on the work than the person behind by technology changing the way how value is created. The infrastructure’s possibility for anonymity has opened up for a focus on what is created instead of who created it. Internet as a medium has meant a change in the cost of a commodity or participation which has been a reason the gift economy could be rediscovered and developed by technology (Kollock 1999). If Simmel argued that the value of an item is created by how hard it is to get hold of the object, the Internet might have challenged this traditional valuation (Appadurai 1986). Much of what the user freely give society on the Internet is digital information which means that even if one or many use the information it will still be available for others, thus possible to produce an infinite number of copies, such as a computer program. In previous gift cultures the gift was limited. To a greater extent it was required to be physically on site to take part of it, in addition to the distribution required significantly more resources. If a group or individual wanted to spread a certain
information it required, for example, that they published a widely distributed magazine or an advertisement on TV, which would not only be expensive and geographically limited, but also would have a time limit when commercials only shown a certain time and the newspaper eventually disappears. With the Internet the cost of disseminating information drastically lowers as simple means (as an internet and a website) can disseminate information globally in real time and remain available regardless of the publication date. This makes it easier for the individual and may motivate him or her to contribute material when the threshold is low because of the simplicity of publishing, no more need of capital required to do so, and the ability to reach large numbers is large (Kollock 1999).

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