More To It Than Simple Greed

This fall I planned to present three short courses designed for seniors. The first was to be a combination decision theory and puzzle course based loosely on my other Lockergnome post. The second was a moderately advanced photo restoration and enhancement class for people who wanted to go beyond simple cropping and organization. The third was an afterthought thrown in just for fun-how to get freebies off the Internet safely.

A few people signed up for the first course, but not enough to sustain it. I went ahead and presented the first 2-hour session and the three people who attended raved and suggested that better advertising would have attracted more students. But as the deadline for the photo restoration class approached and only three people had signed up for it, I decided to abandon it also. The only real winner was the freebies course, which was over-subscribed with a waiting list. I am offering it again in a few weeks and again it is over-subscribed.

This topic seems to resonate with readers of this column because the freebies course also attracted more comments than any other subject I have written about. Several readers suggested great sites with nifty things to download. There is a lesson here.

I think the lesson goes beyond the simple desire to get something for nothing. Everyone loves a bargain, but there is more to it than simple greed. The growth of Internet services has promoted many changes in how we do things. The cost of buying and selling personal items has decreased greatly with the growth of eBay. Think back to the days of garage sales as a primary way of trying to recover some money from your trash rather than simply donating or trashing it.

Paradigm shifts induced by the Internet are not yet mature. In particular, we do not really know how to value things because the ground keeps shifting under us. Image processing software and office suites that once could be obtained only by the exchange of hundreds of dollars are now available for free. How do we absorb that reality into a functioning social system where people can still make profits and survive? Some information is still expensive, but the cost structure is still changing. The RIAA does not seem to have any better idea of how to deal with these shifts than the rest of us.

Most seniors were taught about the perils of the Great Depression by their scared parents. So their first experience with the new scenery and its promises of free downloads combined with the danger of malware both attracted and made them nervous about taking advantage of free things. They do not want to ruin their computers. They know that great freebies are out there, but how can they navigate safely through the advertisements and spies. Many are put off by the occasional porno site that pops up in what should be innocuous searches. So when they are offered a helping hand to get started, they jump for it.

And, yes, I like free things too and probably have a lot of stuff installed on my main computer that is just taking up space, but when it comes to learning new things, I still feel the decision theory course would be more valuable and the photo restoration course more fun. Maybe I should have taken a course in advertising-I might be able to find an online one for free, hmm…

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.