Monopolizing Creativity

Recently, I came across a quotation that really struck me: “The outsider has nothing to lose” (20).These words belong to Tim Wu, author of The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. The book outlines the arc of the information industry, beginning with the Bell Company and its subsidiary, AT&T.

The reason these words stuck out to me is because they inspire hope. As a soon-to-be graduate, I very much feel like an outsider. I do not work for the major companies, nor do I feel the most confident that I can possibly keep up with them in this age. It is so easy to fall behind when communications are constantly on the fast track. And yet, this quotation sparks the inspiration I need to dive right in. After all, what do I have to lose?

The outsider has freedom. An individual makes their own rules to follow, chooses which direction they take. They are not limited to a certain brand of creativity. As Tim Wu states:

Those closer to – often at the trough of – existing industries face a remarkably constant pressure not to invent things that will ruin their employer (20).

The outsider isa whole, not a part. They choose what they consume, digest, and produce. Particular industries monopolize the right to think freely within themselves, therefore discouraging individualism from flourishing.

No doubt, this limits what kind of creative outcomes are possible for these industries. However, this goes beyond simply limiting creators and producers. Wu continues to argue that monopolization further detriments the consumer, on both the individual and social scales. He states that “the cost of monopoly must not be measured in dollars alone, but also in its effect on the economy of effects and images” (69). In other words, monopolization causes the dominant industry to censor the information society receives.

If industries are censoring their own workers and consumers, it might seem like they’ve completely monopolized the entirety of the information flow. The only person that is left, then, is the outsider. The outsider who acts as the free-thinker and inspires change can be enough to dismantle a monopoly. These are the innovators who disrupt the monopolies with new technologies, new ideals, new markets.

We need these outsiders for the sole reason that monopolies do not last forever. These companies, that hold so much influence over our information flow, can still fail despite their size and power at a given time. There needs to be someone to pick up pieces when the mighty fall, hence the need for outsiders and freethinkers. Without them, there is no one to challenge these giants and no one to replace them when the times change.

The magic of being an outsider is being able to make change and do so on one’s own terms. However, monopolies rather protect themselves rather than help society grow. But we do not need more of the same. We need disruption, innovation, and most importantly, we need more than one person controlling the master switch that controls this country’s access to information.

To hear more about The Master Switch, watch Tim Wu discuss his work at Harvard Book Store:

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