I did one of my sessions with school kids today about copyright, open content, and sharing.

I’m highly prone to diversions during these conversations, which I enjoy quite a bit. We often talk about things like how laws are made, lobbyists, Limewire, inheritance issues, the pluses and minuses of Wikipedia, and more. Sounds like fun, huh? :)

The music industry always provides a great springboard for conversations on these topics, and today was no exception. At some point, I asked these high school kids if they’d seen bands that have music that you could download for free if you want or pay if you want. Most had.

“So do you think anyone ever pays for this?” I asked.

Raucous laughter resulted. Of course not, they roared.

“Well, I’ve actually paid for music on a site like that.”

They rolled their eyes, undoubtedly wondering what kind of crazy guest speaker their teacher had arranged.

Then I asked them why someone like me might pay for something they could get for free. Mostly, they had no idea, but we eventually managed to come up with some ideas, like wanting to support the artists or thinking that the quality of the product merited compensation.

Taking this a step further, I asked if they had heard about Panera Bread’s pay-optional restaurants, where the idea is that people pay as little or as much as they can. They hadn’t and thought I was joking. This is an interesting social experiment, and we went on to speculate about whether a system like this could work from a business standpoint, in addition to providing societal benefits. (This is exactly the kind of discussion that I fear will generate parent calls to the school the next day, but so far, so good.)

Can you imagine a world in which major segments are on a pay-what-you-can/want basis? Hmmm….

Credit: Sarah Gilbert
Credit: Sarah Gilbert
A sharing economy
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