After Lord Obama got elected, my girlfriend and I got into an interesting discussion. She argued that memorabilia from the election will be worth a lot of money someday. I disagreed, and here is why.
It's obvious that it is easier to duplicate artwork today than ever before. The difference between an "original" piece of music or piece of Photoshop artwork and the music/art consumed is simply filesizeâ€”the consumers' copies are compressed.
Physical pieces of artwork (like old paintings) are obviously still quite valuable. But museums, I think, are less important now than everâ€”I don't need to go to a museum or even go to a library to see a painting, I can spend five seconds and GIS it. Yes, my monitor cannot replicate the delicate texture of the painting, its imposing size, its musty scent, etcâ€”but it's not hard to imagine a near-future where you can upload the intricate details of such physical objects, down to microscopic details, to some kind of virtual database and allow millions of people to at least look at them in high-fidelity (if not touch).
I have a vintage copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, with red Ganon blood and full-on blasphemous Fire Temple music (later copies changed the blood to green and revamped the music so it didn't offend Muslims). Is my copy more "authentic" than later copies? The question is approaching mootness today: it would be trivial for someone to hack the source code and upload either version for consumption, and this will certainly be more true in the future.
Why would anyone care about a vintage Obama poster in 20 or 30 years when they can go online, download the original Photoshop file of the poster's artwork, and enter a virtual-reality simulation of the Grant Park extravaganza from which it came? I accept that there will be some sentimental holdouts who value physical mediums over electronic duplicationâ€”but I see such people as a shrinking minority of traditionalists, shrinking faster as more and more of our culture's artwork and expression is electronic (and thus, easily replicable) in nature.
Is this a bad thing? Should we value authenticity? I'm not sure if we should. The idea of authenticity seems very interwoven with the prior idea of propertyâ€”this is mine
and no one else's
. This is original
and everything else is a copy.
And obviously, this association makes senseâ€”artists need to get paid, and an effective way to do that has been to consciously correspond authenticity with property, so that "authentic" pieces are worth more than their imitators. But in today's world, physical authenticity-as-property has been subsumed by the idea of intellectual property
, which says nothing about the physical medium or its replicability.
I'm certainly in favor of rewarding people for their ideas and artwork. But I could care less if the ideas and artwork I experience are "authentic" or "copies" if there is no meaningful difference between the two, and I don't think maintaining such a difference is inherently valuable to society.