Monday, August 02, 2010

On advertising, the software industry, and Bill Hicks

"By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising...kill yourself." - Bill Hicks

I watched "American: The Bill Hicks Story" at the weekend. It was an excellent film and well worth watching, especially if you are a Bill Hicks fan. How is this relevant to programming languages? It's not. But it is vaguely relevant to the state of the software industry, bear with me...

One of Bill Hicks' 'things' is with marketing and advertising; see, for example, the above quote. Now I wouldn't quite agree with that, but I do agree that advertising and marketing make my life considerably worse, and I really can't stand them. I think that working in these industries cannot, morally, be justified. Whilst I am a supporter of capitalism (it might not be a great economic system, but it is definitely the least worst that anybody has come up with so far), I detest the current climate of consumerism and think it is a great detriment to most societies. Advertising/marketing is a key feeder of consumerism and thus, I don't like it.

Now the great thing about a lot of software right now is that it is free. Some is really free, made by volunteers out of the goodness of their hearts, but most is funded by advertising. The most obvious and successful example being Google. Furthermore, a whole lot of non-software information is funded by advertising, for example, most of the internet. So I can't close my eyes and wish that all the advertising in the world would go away, because then so would most of the software I use and websites I read. And companies I might one day like to work for.

So is there a moral problem to using such ad-funded software and websites. I use adblock, so of course I don't actually see any ads, and certainly never click any. So I'm kind of getting a free ride (oh, how I wish there was adblock for TV and real life). So I'm not funding the ads in anyway. But, this opens up a new problem: am I just free loading on those who are less tech-savvy than I and who do not use adblock? Well they don't pay for the ads, even if they click them, so not in a monetary sense. Although I guess they put up with the inconvenience (who knows, perhaps they even like the ads). And at the end of the day it's a slice of the price of the goods that we all buy, so in a way there is a consumption tax that is used to fund free websites and software, which is kind of nice. And also hundreds of engineers and investors, which is not so cool. And of course as a tax on consumption to fund information, it must be highly inefficient, since the advertisers and marketing people and managers at Google on obscene salaries all take their cut. It may still be more sefficient than an actual tax administered by a government though.

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