Transfer Wealth Online
3 March 2019
In England resides a reclusive musical artist who composes on his computer in the quiet hours of the night. He makes mostly electronic music, but occasionally produces stunningly beautiful solo piano pieces. His name is Richard James, more commonly known as Aphex Twin, and he has a huge global following.
Aphex Twin’s solo piano songs are among my favourite music of all time, so I follow him on Facebook. He has a reputation for doing things a little differently, not worrying how it will impact his image. In this vein, he posted a link for merchandise captioned with three words that have remained imprinted in my mind: Transfer Wealth Online
Never has such a perfect sentence been written (Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot probably did, but not about the internet). What was more amazing was that his fans followed the instruction—the merchandise sold out in less than 24 hours. In fact, fans in some time-zones even complained that by the time they had woken up the stock had all sold out.
A long time before the internet, wealth had a very different meaning. People worked hard to produce milk or rice or olives. What wasn’t required to feed their family could be traded for other necessities from their neighbour who had also worked hard to generate a surplus. When weather conditions were favourable, people could grow more food and become wealthier. That wealth was required for hard times when the cow died or the olive trees became diseased. If they were to fritter away their wealth on an Aphex Twin branded umbrella they would risk starvation. Their commercial interactions took the form of an exchange, such that after a transaction, a farmer was still as wealthy; in place of olive oil the farmer now had wheat.
Today, few people plan for adversity. A staggering number of people would have problems if their pay-check arrived a day late, let alone if they had to survive a whole season without an income. Their lives don’t depend on sustaining wealth, which is the very idea that maintains unnecessary spending.
The online world has changed the nature of commerce. Previously products were real, you could touch, feel or taste them. Someone, likely a person you knew, had made them with their hands. Later, machines made it cheaper to make copies of the same product, and computer code now allows us to replicate a product infinitely for pittance. This has drastically changed the equation. Once one of these products has been purchased, it can be replaced by the seller with minimal effort and cost. We are no longer entering into an exchange because the seller doesn’t experience a meaningful loss when their product is purchased. From the consumer’s perspective, they are transferring their money to the seller, or wealth collector. In one year, Google and Facebook together made $100 billion from online advertising. Keep that figure in mind the next time you’re about to transfer wealth online.