Everyone knows that inflation has to do with increases in the prices of goods and services and the buying power of the dollar. But there is a new inflation that costs just as much as money without really costing anything. There is no standard for it, or at least not one that can be shared by anyone apart from myself. I decide just how much inflation goes up or down with each online click.
The Federal Communications Commission regulates advertising on television, what commercial content is lawful and the ratio between programming and commercial advertising. That agency controls how much of which type of commercial advertising children are exposed to during specific hours of the day and whether you can sell cigarettes or hard booze or boner pills. And they can do this because television can be controlled through broadcast licenses. But the FCC has almost none of this power on the Internet. I also believe that because of the digital conversion, the FCC will lose its power to control broadcast television, but that will come later when one or more of the major networks decide to scramble their programming and then charge annual fees to descramble. I'll get back to you next year about that one.
The New Inflation consists of how much privacy and how much time we trade for online content.
The reason how this came up is that I'm preparing a presentation on tools for library branding and promotion and I was checking how companies are using two-dimensional bar codes ("QRCodes") to connect users with additional information about their products. And I found a print ad for potato chips with a code that told the reader to scan the image in their phone to learn more about the product. Which is potato chips. What else does someone need to know about a potato chip? So I scanned the code and found a page with another commercial, but a video, and a link to recipes using potato chips. Like crushing them onto a tuna sandwich, I guess. I didn't look because I already know all the ways I want to interact with potato chips. I eat them until they are packed into all the crevices in my teeth. So I wasted time watching a video that showed me the same stuff I saw in the print ad.
People continue to think of inflation in terms of dollars, but I'm beginning to see it as a measure of how much time I have to spend to receive some online information or how much privacy I need for forfeit to get it.
So now I refuse to watch funny animal or kid clips on web sites. There is no way I can justify having to ignore a 45-second ad for Jergens skin cream just to see a 25 second clip of a cat sneezing. If we had the same rules for broadcast television, it would take 51 minutes to watch one half-hour episode of How I Met Your Mother.
And don't even think about sending me any stupid Facebook poll that wants to access my profile and all my friends because I will beat your ass.
In some ways, there is occasionally an online benefit. It might only cost six 30-second clips to watch a full episode of Fringe, which makes my online time more valuable than my broadcast TV time and creates the "time to ad" deflation: my online time is worth more to the advertiser.
But there are no standards. The FCC considered reclassifying the Internet as a telecommunications medium, but I guess that's over. The battle over net neutrality will also go away eventually because no one really wants it.
I remember when everyone had that exact same ability to view the exact same programming through television. If you had an antenna that worked and not the same bent coat hanger you used to unlock your car door when you left the keys in the ignition. But as long as some people are willing to pay for stuff that others can't afford, there will never be net neutrality. There will always be tiered access. Either your modem is faster or your broadband is fatter or you just suck up as much as you can get because you are a selfish bastard who streams episodes of The Bionic Woman (the original series) through Netflix when there is NO GOOD REASON to ever watch that show again, there will always be a disparity between users.
So next year when real inflation hits and gas is $4.75 a gallon and a box of Cap'n Crunch runs $6, you probably won't care much about how you spend your online time. And that's too bad. Because if your time has no value for you, how can you expect it to be worth anything to anyone else?