Is “free” Devalued by Consumers?

How much do people appreciate handouts? Personally, I find myself getting very skeptical when something that I consider to be of great value is offered to me for free. But in terms of how much the consumer of a product appreciates the product when it is handed to them rather than them needing to pay for it.

There could be many reasons for the devaluation of free entertainment. We live in a world where we are told that, if we want something, we have to earn it. When the opportunity presents itself that we may be able to obtain something while having to give nothing in return we may become skeptical or we may come to appreciate it less.
This is the phenomenon that Washington Post columnist, Gene Weingarten, put to the test when he asked renowned violinist and conducted Joshua Bell to play his violin in the D.C. Metro station.

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Bell, who had recently performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for a considerable amount of money, put on a dirty baseball cap and dressed as a busker, and played his 300 year old Straivarius violin for 45 minutes. What the cameras caught during his performance was that, of the 1,097 people who passed by during the time he was playing, only seven people stopped to listen to him, and only one person recognized him. In total, he collected $32.17 from 27 people, which excludes $20 he was given by the one who recognized him.

Why is it, though, that people did not stop to listen? It could have been a handful of reasons. One could be that these people had places to go whereas the ones who went to his show were there specifically to see him. They could have not noticed them in such a crowded place. Or, of course, it could have been that it was a free performance so people did not expect much. Having been taught that the more expensive an experience is, the more valuable it is, many of these people may have thought that this random man on the side of the street was simply not worth their time. Nobody was asking for their money so they may have thought “what value is the performance?” If they shouldn’t have to pay for it, it couldn’t possibly be worth their time.

 

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Internet Celebrities

Their stories go like this:

Beginning- They begin posting either pictures or videos of their particular skill online, simply as a way of expressing themselves. They gain a small following which encourages them to further explore their talents and keep displaying them online.

Suddenly- Their fan base grows, and with that you notice their output increasing. They are now posting daily when they used to post weekly.

Then- The quality of what they produce drops, you notice that their style has faded and they seem to be pandering to a larger crowd.

Next- You find them pitching products in their pictures or videos that you don’t care to see. Their fan base keeps growing but they begin to lose your interest.

After that- You decide to stop watching them for a bit. Only to go back after an extended break to see what they have been doing. What you see looks more like a city billboard than an actual person. They have commercials before their videos, during their videos, and they drop brand names like it’s their job (because it is) and you feel sad that they sold out.

Finally- You either never hear about them again because they have quit due to the pressure they began to feel from fans or you begin seeing them in places besides the internet and you wonder if any of their current fans know how much better their original material produced was.

You may have been thinking of anyone in particular when reading that story. It is a very common one, especially with how easy it is to gain attention on the internet. There are many people who either change their art or give it up because the pressure has gotten to be too much.

One example of this case is the story of Essena O’Neil, who vanished from social media after gaining a massive following on Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Tumblr. All of which she deleted due to the rising amount of pressure that she began to feel from her fans. After spending a while off the grid, she sent a long email to her fans explaining her departure. In it, she details how her celebrity lifestyle was taking over her real life. She began to abandon her old friends for ones she met through modeling. And how what she was beginning to post online she no longer felt was something she could call her own. Her entire life began to feel superficial. So she decided to walk away from it and has been happy ever since. She ends by encouraging anybody else who is feeling the same kind of pressure to take the path that she did.

You can find the link to her departure letter here. Thank you Kerrin for introducing me to her story.

City Sidewalks vs. Art Museums

Art museums can be very exciting or incredibly boring. There is an expectation, when opening a museum, that it will contain pieces of art that will draw large crowds of people which will, in turn, make the museum a lot of money so that it can stay in business. In my few experiences of attending art museums, I have had very few experiences where there was a piece that stuck with me for a while afterwards and very many experiences where I needed to find a bench to sit on because I could feel myself falling asleep.

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City sidewalks are much different. Only a small minority of people, if any, who walk through the city each day are in search of pieces of art. This is why street artists need to find something that draws people’s attention in. They do not have the luxury of being put in a museum where people who walk through it have no choice but to look at every piece in there. Street artists are also not doing their art for a pay check, so they don’t have to please anyone. They only want their art to be seen, whether people love it or hate it does not matter, because they are still taking in their art.

I have seen much more art in alleyways on the sides of buildings that has captivated me than I have ever seen inside museums. One artist in particular whose pieces always leave me in awe, and whose art, sadly, I have not yet been able to see in person, is Banksy, a street artist whose identity is unknown. What makes Banksy such an incredible artist is the messages he or she is able to convey in their pieces. As an anonymous street artist, Banksy is not only free from the artistic burden of needing to make a living off of their art, but they also don’t need to keep their real name from being tarnished. If they make a piece that angers many then they can still walk around in the daytime without being bothered.

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There is no telling, of course, if Banksy’s art would be any different if there were a name or a paycheck attached to it. There is a chance that their work would still remain very honest if they were working for an art distributor. But then that would bring up the question of why they chose to be anonymous in the first place. Maybe they knew that some wouldn’t like what it was they were putting out to the world. It also speaks to the drive of the artist that they would create their art all over the world for no recognition and no money. It speaks further to their ingenuity as an artist. The unpaid street artist never has to impress anyone, they just have to express themselves.

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Beginner’s Luck

“You have a lifetime to write your first album, and a year to write your second”– Elvis Costello

What is it that limits an artists material when producing their second piece? Their first one was great so then why shouldn’t their second one be just as great or better? Why is it that they have such limited time to make their second piece of art when their first one put them in a much less desperate situation than they were in before? One can begin finding answers to the mystery of the “one hit wonder/beginners luck” when studying the body of work produced by Nas.

In April of 1994, the hip hop world was changed forever when 20 year old Nasir Jones dropped his hit album Illmatic, which painted, for its listeners, a picture of growing up in inner city New York with a level of intimacy no one had ever heard from a rap album before. It received universal acclaim from critics as well as fans and rappers within the hip hop community.

Two years later, after being signed to Columbia Records, Nas dropped his sophomore album It Was Written… which, along with every subsequent album since, failed to see the level of success which Illmatic saw. The reason for this, being his contract with the recording studio. Due to feeling the pressure of pleasing his fans and the studio, Nas rapped about more mainstream topics which he thought would appeal to a broader audience. He also ditched the sounds of the inner city heard on the first album for more studio produced beats.

As one may guess, many fans were disappointed with this second album. Many of them felt like Nas was selling out his honesty for his fame. Since 2000, Nas has continued an inconsistent output of music and has received inconsistent, although not bad, reviews for each one. None of them ever receiving the level of praise that the one he spent nineteen years working on received.

There could be many reasons for the lack of personal detail and honesty in the albums Nas produced since the release of Illmatic, they could stem from no longer being exposed to the drugs and violence that Illmatic revolved around, or it could be Nas’ desire to please the public made him write about less honest subjects in his music. Another reason could be that his contract with Columbia Records deprived him of the artistic freedom that he had when writing his first album. Regardless of the reason for his lack of quality in production, I think it would all lead back to his music losing some of its honest appeal once he began writing for money.

Can Money Buy Honesty?

I never focused too much on how honest different forms of writing feel before I began my project comparing free art to art that is done for profit but ever since I started seeing it I don’t know if I will ever be able to read paid writing without noticing some bit of honesty missing it. I have been slightly overwhelmed at how easy it is to find sources that contain evidence of my theory that, when people are writing to earn money, there will be a certain level of honesty being lost because people may feel like nobody will relate to what they are saying if they only discuss their own experiences. Two articles I compared were called Cracking the Kiwi Code which was published by a paid author on Outsideonline.com and the other was called Five Things I Learned While Backpacking Through New Zealand. The difference in the types of advice they provide for the reader on how to properly prepare for a trip to New Zealand was interesting.

The one published for Outside was not nearly as fun to read and did not make me wish to visit New Zealand so much as the one about lessons learned while there. The suggestions it made were things such as “go mobile”, “kick back”, and “take a hike” which are all good suggestions but stuff I would assume anybody who is planning a trip to New Zealand already has plans to do. The details of each of these experiences never stretch too far beyond the prices of the experience, which they are sure to list next to each experience listed, along with the easiest way to travel to the spots that offer each kind of experience.

The other article, published Odyssey online, had zero prices listed as well as no links to any websites where the reader can find out more about each experience. Instead they provide a list of life lessons they learned while on a biking trip with their sister that the reader can use any time in their life whether they are in Australia or not. The lessons they teach the reader are much more personal. One thing the author lists is “trust your gut” and shares a personal experience of her and her sister fleeing a mans house, which they had been staying at, late one night because they felt unsafe.

Another lesson she gives to the reader is “keep your sense of humor”, and tells an other story where she lost her credit card while getting chased down a mountain by a herd of angry cows. She stated it was one of those times where “anything that could go wrong did go wrong” but that the trip would not have been nearly as fun of an experience had everything gone the way they planned. She ends this lesson by saying “So embrace the suck, and don’t let a bit of misadventure keep you from having a good time”.

The biggest difference I noticed in these two articles is that the one written for Outside which intended to pander, in a way, so that they could get the greatest number of readers who may be planning trips, did not make me want to travel to New Zealand so much as the one written about a personal experience. As fun as “kicking back”, “going mobile”, and “taking a hike” sound, they are all things I can do anywhere. They are very unspecific to the place. Whereas the one about backpacking, and describing the lessons the author learned that she can take with her for the rest of her life, does make me want to go because it makes me want to have those same experiences that she did. I think the article about backpacking, with it’s realistic and lifelike nature would convince many more people to want to travel to Australia than laying out a list of ideas for what to do when there.

How Dewey Experience?

John Dewey breaks down the process of experience very well in his writings on experience. Much of the reading didn’t so much have me learning new things like the other readings have but it more made me realize things. A lot of what he says in this is stuff I feel like I had known prior but never paid much mind to.

He starts off the essay by saying “Experience occurs continuously” which should be obvious but I just never thought about. Before reading this, the only parts of my life that I would have considered to be “experiences” were only the noteworthy experiences that I have had and would not have realized that I am still in the process of experiencing life in between those events.

One passage I especially liked in particular is on the beginning of page 9 when he discusses the common patterns in experience… “There are, therefore, common patterns in various experiences, no matter how unlike they are to one another in the details of their subject matter” I did have some trouble understanding his statement, because I wasn’t sure whether he meant the same person having various experiences or various people having the same experience. But I found both situations interesting to examine.

If it is the case of the single person having many experiences then I interpret as him saying that they will have the same type of experiences throughout their life, such as a tragic event that makes them learn to be more appreciative of what they have, a great accomplishment that makes them proud of what they have done, etc. They will have each of those kinds of experiences multiple times in their life, no matter how different the specific content of the experience is.

If it is the other case, of many people sharing the same experience, then I would say he is trying to point out the interconnectedness that people have with each other. Everyone is having the same kinds of experiences, all dealing with losses or triumphs of some sorts that make them view life a different way. In either of the cases, no matter which one of these he is meaning to say, I think he is making a very interesting point in his writing.

Politics of Location Response

“The process through which nuclear annihilation was to become part of all human calculation had already begun. But we did not live with that knowledge during the first sixteen years of my life. And a recurrent theme in much poetry I read was the indestructibility of poetry, the poem as a vehicle for personal immortality.”

This reading I found very interesting as well as very relevant today. This quote I thought was interesting because the author was growing up during World War 2 when the world seemed very fragile how poetry, to her, was the only indestructible thing in a destructible world. This author has a very interesting perspective because, even though she is not anywhere near where the way is taking place, she still feels this imminent threat from it.

What I also thought to be very compelling was in the first paragraph of the reading, she mentions how she loves Nicaragua because “Everybody there is a poet” and how poets typically do not get as much respect in developed countries like the United States because “poetry is neither economically profitable or politically effective”. What I loved most about that part was how it reveals the way societies set their priorities and how, in a country that doesn’t have much they are able to find a strong appreciation for simple things such as poetry and art whereas, in America, a job in the arts is usually seen as a waste of time because our society does not value it as much.

As someone who aspires to go into writing I strongly related to this section because I have had this experience many times with adults trying to tell me not to go into writing but to take a more “useful path”. The job they suggest is always more leaning towards the economic category such as an accountant or a stock broker. Sometimes it has to do with helping others whether they tell me to be a therapist or a teacher but it is very rare that they support anything that would have to do with entertaining people.