The New Age: Free Lunch

Article first published as The New Age: Free Lunch on Technorati.

free lunch, homeless person, opportunity, life liberty pursuit of happiness, american dreamRemember the old saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” or “You have to spend money to make money?” The lunch saying began when saloon owners gave away “free” food to anyone purchasing drinks, an effective marketing ploy that was noticeably not without cost to customers. Spending, or investing, to make money was demonstrated beautifully for decades by George Steinbrenner though the recently deceased Yankees owner was merely quoting a traditional adage.

To me, these phrases go hand in hand. The concepts are that nothing is without cost, and those who want more money must use some money wisely to make it happen. While it appears these dogmas are ingrained in the American psyche, the fact is these beliefs contradict the American Dream; opportunity exists for anyone with ability and effort regardless of their means. Thankfully, these outdated concepts are also changing before our eyes.

The internet is the true champion of all things free. I’m continually amazed at the plethora of free online resources and how much they’ve impacted my life. To name just a smidgen, how valuable are Google, Facebook and Twitter? Hard to put a price tag on what those services would be worth if I had to pay for them.

Here’s a fun headline that you’ll read someday soon (or maybe already have); Homeless Person Creates Empire with Free Tools at Library. Imagine a homeless guy; let’s call him Hal, visiting the public library daily to use the computers. Hal makes a website at a free web design venue with hosting included. He writes articles and uses public domain images to bring attention to the homeless in his city. He asks for donations. Personal checks and PayPal clicks start coming Hal’s way. He adds video and interviews to better demonstrate the plight of his friends. The website booms. Months later he’s the CEO of an upstart company that assists the poverty stricken in his city. Years later Hal’s company has gone worldwide. He raises billions and aids countless people from a venture that began with absolutely nothing invested and services available for free.

I just imagined this scenario, but there’s probably an example of Hal already in action. The naysayers clinging to tradition might argue, “Our tax dollars paid for the library, the computer, the internet connection and the electricity.” Well, sure, that’s right. Naysayers are good at that.

Do they recognize what’s happening to the price of music or video rental? Do they see the possibility of a virtual MBA from Harvard professors at the lower class home of a student in the near future?

The naysayers can stick with whatever money mantra that makes them feel secure. I firmly believe we’ve entered a new age that’s being ushered in by the internet. The Free Lunch is the latest chapter of the American Dream. Will it be prosperous for everyone like it is for Hal? Probably not, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

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