The Product

The office needed printer ink. I made the order – three days shipping time. I unpacked the ink and was about to place it in. The moment of truth.

More like moment of failure.

Yes, I ordered the correct color. Yes, I made sure what the specs were. But guess what – the ink was not compatible with the printer. What we needed was the printer brand's ink, not a cheaper knockoff that I had purchased.

While a display of personal fault, this story also glimpses into a common trend – vendor lock-in. We engage in transactions where we lose ownership of our tools. Count Fenring extends this further in a great post:

Software is often times no different. Everything is becoming a “service” rather than a “product.” You don't buy Microsoft Office anymore, you rent it. You no longer have copies of a movie, it's all digital and stored on the whim of Amazon. Google and Apple have both been found listening to their users through their cellphones, even when they're not supposed to. Microsoft has announced that they're closing their ebook store, and all books purchased there will not be accessible once it closes. Skype has gone from saying that it couldn't listen to calls to, after some infrastructure changes and a MS (its parent company) patent on VOIP eavesdropping, refusing to say one way or the other. This list goes on. As the saying goes, the cloud is just someone else's computer.

This becomes less true if you stop using free services but do start using free software. I pay for e-mail, this blog, and hosting my own Nextcloud instance for file backup. Because as soon as I start paying, I'm no longer the product.

I want to emphasize that last sentence. Why? We focus on the inverse. You are not paying for it? Well, you must be getting manipulated somehow. We hear that time and time again.

So what do we do about it? What about the flip side? What does it mean when we pay? Are we automatically abdicated from being a product? Or is it a spectrum of sorts?

Perhaps that is what Count Fenring is implying here.