Daily Video

June 19, 2013

Should You Get Paid for Tweeting?

The age of the internet has brought free stuff to computers around the world. Free social networks, free blogs, free newspapers, free music, television and movies, just to name a few.

However, Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist who worked on the early stages of the internet, argues that all this free stuff is actually deepening the class divide.

“In a digital network, whoever has the biggest and best-connected computer is going to get all the power and all the money,” he told the NewsHour’s Paul Solman. “And that centralizes the rewards so much, that it screws up the society and the economy eventually.”

With all this free stuff, he claims, wealth becomes concentrated among those who own the technology. Personal information has become a currency that people exchange for web goodies.

“In finance, it’s created incredible rewards for the people with the biggest computers. And in the media industries, it’s done the same thing,” says Lanier.

However, technology like this will soon be coming to many other industries, putting many careers in jeopardy.

Among others, Lanier says, “We already have self-driving cars. So, eventually, all the taxi drivers, all the truck drivers go out of work. We already have 3-D printers. We have robotic manufacturing tools. Eventually, manufacturing workers go away.”

The solution is to pay people in small micro-payments every time they contribute information to the network, Lanier says. For example, every time a government agency captures an image of you on a city security camera, they should send you a payment.

“I think the government should have to pay for whatever it does, including getting information from people, and should be constrained by its budget,” he explains. “So, if they have to pay for collecting those images of you walking around, then they have to create a sense of balance about how often they do it.”

The benefits, he claims, could be enormous.

“If we create a world where everybody can benefit from the information economy, even if it’s just pure information — in other words, you actually get paid for your blog post or your social network activity if you’re popular, that kind of stuff, then we can create a stronger middle class than we have ever had before as technology gets better. That is the big idea. That’s the big possibility.”

Warm up questions

1. What kinds of things can you do for free on the internet?

2. Why are things free on the internet? How do you think they are paid for?

3. What is income inequality? Why is it a problem?

Discussion questions

1. Do you agree with Jaron Lanier that the government and organizations should pay to use your information? Why or why not?

2. Would you rather sell your information to a technology company, or pay for their services knowing your information could not be used for other purposes?

3. What was privacy before the internet? How has the internet changed the definition of privacy?

4. What are the pros and cons of the government and corporations collecting information on internet users?

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