As many of you know I am an unabashed film geek. I watch a few hundred films a year. I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Showtime and HBO, and I have a fairly extensive film collection. I am as passionate about film as I am passionate about software. A while back, a conversation began around a comic posted on www.theoatmeal.com. This comic, titled, “I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened,” takes the protagonist through a journey whereby he tries to pay for Game of Thrones, fails to find a place to pay for it, and ultimately steals the content via BitTorrent. HBO, which created the Game of Thrones television series, takes the distribution of their content seriously and chooses when and how they want to release it to non-cable subscribers. After this comic came out, I participated in a number of Twitter conversations about the subject of content availability. Some people defended HBO and others defended theft. The defense of stealing the video content was rather interesting. The thieves basically said, “Hey, I want to pay them and if they choose not take my money, screw ‘em. I’ll just Torrent it”.
We live in an age of entitlement. People want what they want when they want it, and if they cannot have it, they will go to considerable lengths to get it, and this includes stealing it. During a recent Twitter conversation, one friend and awesome film critic Drew McWeeney (http://www.hitfix.com/authors/drew-mcweeny) turned me on to a new term: The Veruca Salt mentality. In the movie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, spoiled little rich girl Veruca Salt demands that Willy Wonka sell her father a goose that lays chocolate eggs. Wonka declines and she proceeds to scream, “I want it now!” Veruca Salt perfectly describes the current mentality of a lot of people today: “You won’t give me what I want when I want it so I’ll just take it.” I believe we created this monster ourselves.
The Veruca Salt mentality is being ingrained into our society via websites/applications like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Posterous, Instagram, Foursquare, Yelp and others. Why am I pointing the finger at these websites/applications? All of these applications share a similar trait - they are all free. This is a problem in the macro sense. These free applications influence hundreds of millions of people to have an expectation that services are free. Just last night my friend Scott Hanselman (http://www.hanselman.com/) tweeted this funny yet apropos message:
The new @Foursquare 5.0 app is out. Like all hipsters I will declare the redesign a failure and rage quit before trying it.
This tweet, while clearly a joke, gives clarity into a mentality that is pervasive in today’s culture. Take a second and think about the self-righteous indignation that happens whenever a freebie website makes a change. You can hear the cries now: “Oh my God, what the hell was Facebook thinking when they forced this Timeline crap on us?!?!” or “I cannot believe Twitter forced this crap interface on us.” This might sound funny as we reflect on the silliness of it all, but in reality it is a serious issue. We have created entire generations of people with unrealistic expectations that things of value should be free.
A few months ago I asked followers of my Twitter feed if they would be willing to pay some nominal amount for Twitter services. From my limited sample size I came to the conclusion that yes, people would pay for the service. I receive a lot of benefit from Twitter and would happily pay for it. I would probably pay for Facebook as well. Other services I am not so sure about. I receive zero value from LinkedIn and I never got the point of Foursquare so I probably wouldn’t pay for that (although I did get a free appetizer at Red Robin once for checking in on Fouesquare). If I want services that I value to live on and thrive, then I better pay for them. I am not entitled to having a Twitter account or a Facebook page. Eventually I’ll probably be required to pay for those services if I want to continue to use them.
Need further evidence? Just take a look at Facebook’s stock prices. As I write this today, (June 7, 2012), the stock price has lost a third of its original value. Why is this? The world has woken up to the reality that Facebook is, in all reality, a social welfare program created by Silicon Valley venture capital. Facebook is now adrift in the world where they actually have to show a profit. Profits are hard to achieve when you have trained your customer base to expect to pay nothing.
This returns me to my original premise. You are not entitled to content whenever and wherever you want it. Content is not free and you are not allowed to steal Game of Thrones because HBO has made a business decision to charge for their content and to distribute it via cable subscriptions. You must absolve yourself of the entitled mentality that has entered your subconscious.
Recall how things turned out for Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka. She was determined to be a “bad egg” and dropped down the garbage chute. Don’t be a bad egg. Don’t be a Veruca Salt.