In the 1990s, a legion of independent artists roamed the streets, selling cassette tapes from the trunks of their cars. They could be found in front of record stores, swap meets, or wherever people congregated. In a world where there were people to see with your own eyes, there were potential fans to be won over.
The hustle of those times was as real as the struggles faced by these artists, but the potential for success was limitless. Then came the Internet—a technological promise of a more connected future that transcended physical boundaries. While it delivered on some promises, technology developed at a pace faster than society could adapt to these new forms of social interaction.
One crucial aspect of this evolution was the importance of barriers to entry.
Not too long ago, aspiring musicians had to invest thousands in recording and pressing vinyl records. This compelled them to invest in every facet of their craft to ensure a return on investment. It made them ponder how much they were willing to sacrifice to share their creative work with the world and enter the marketplace. The amount one was willing to spend on their vision often reflected the effort they put into their work.
Technocrats, primarily steeped in the world of technology, often lacked firsthand experience in cultures outside their own. Yet, steep learning curves in technology allowed developers to create apps and platforms for cultures they were not a part of. These techies not only ignored cultural norms but actively sought to disrupt them under the banner of innovation. This disruptive approach aimed to make traditionally challenging tasks easier through the power of technology.
However, culture traditionally anoints its leaders based on their ability to navigate and overcome difficulties, not bypass them entirely.
Culture represents the accumulated wisdom of generations, a repository of best practices for social structure. Culture is knowing which mushrooms to consume and which to avoid—it is built upon experiences passed down through the ages.
Imagine a developer who is not a DJ but believes that creating auto-mix software to simplify DJing is a noble endeavor for the culture. In contrast, actual DJs, who have spent years honing their skills through trial and error, view such developments with skepticism. The more challenging it is to surmount a barrier to entry, the stronger an individual becomes, and the more value they contribute to the culture.
If technology eradicates all barriers to entry, it becomes impossible to innovate. The elimination of these cultural hurdles through technology has led to cultural homogenization. Knowledge acquired through decades of hands-on experience has been supplanted by technology that obliterates the very processes that defined the culture.
The removal of barriers to entry should be applied sparingly, particularly to redundant tasks, but not to cultural tasks. The philosophy of "disruption at all costs" has allowed mediocrity to saturate spaces that the culture should have zealously guarded. Technology's most efficient way to devalue culture is by removing barriers to entry. Let's examine this in the context of live video broadcasting in today's social media landscape.
Live streaming is an expensive endeavor. Broadcasting to one million viewers for sixty minutes can cost a staggering $50,000..
Most people are unaware of the actual cost of live streaming, as it has been subsidized by social media companies. Understanding the cost of something allows individuals to assign it value. When the perceived value is low or non-existent, people tend to treat the technology casually, much like a toy. If people knew they possessed the capability for commercial-grade broadcasting and had to pay a premium for it, their entire approach to using it would transform. In a world where everything is perceived as free, people undervalue the culture and invest minimal effort in maximizing its potential.
When everyone can live stream for free, the problem shifts from covering the cost of streaming to breaking through the noise. In such a scenario, individuals must rely on the platform's methods to stand out, often resorting to advertising. However, for cultural endeavors, advertising is largely ineffective. Yet artists and brands collectively invest billions in advertisements annually, trying to solve a problem that wouldn't exist if people paid for what they used.
The culture is being devalued through feature subsidies. Tech companies then offer low performing advertisements that people hope will let them break though the noise created by eliminating the barrier of entry. Social media companies then sell it's user's data to subsidize the feature and ultimately devalue culture itself. The culture then pays for ads to attempt to solve a problem that wouldn't be a problem if people paid for what they used.
Imagine placing a $100 and a $1 price tag next to identical burgers and asking people which one tastes better. Studies show most people choose the $100 burger, simply because it is perceived as more valuable, even though it's the same burger.
Perceived value serves as the precursor to respect. This is why some people may treat others with less respect until they discover their importance. If people recognized that live video streaming was costly and had to pay for it, their approach to the technology would likely change. They would focus on brand positioning, strategy, and producing high-quality content for which they charge. Casual broadcasting would become a rarity because there would be something substantial at stake. When there's nothing to lose, there's little motivation to improve and grow.
Barriers to entry compel individuals to bring their A-game. They regulate mediocrity and ensure that success is the result of cumulative sacrifices made throughout one's journey. In the pre-Internet era, this was an unspoken cultural rule. It ensured that the best rose above the noise. Success was the outcome of sacrifices made at various levels, from acquiring a skill set to networking and marketing. You couldn't wake up one day and expect to have the same resources and advantages as those with years of experience
While the 1990s had their share of problems, technology chose to eliminate cultural traditions instead of refining what didn't work and building upon what did. Social media democratized services that once commanded a premium price, requiring individuals to go above and beyond to earn respect and prime real estate in the community. Now that everyone has access, the exclusivity has evaporated.
The removal of barriers to entry is the reason why over 150,000 albums are released every single day on streaming services.
With this deluge of content, who has the time to listen to it all? When every song is priced at $1, and a stream is valued at $0.003, it erases the perceived value of music entirely. However, many people are willing to pay a premium price for something if the artist or brand can convincingly make the case for its worth.
Amidst the ascent of AI as a formidable competitor to artists, and considering the fact that the vast majority of artists collectively earn a meager 1% of the annual earnings in a trillion-dollar industry, my hope is that platforms such as the one I've been diligently crafting, will empower artists and their supporters to rediscover the profound value inherent in the timeless essence of our culture.