How much do you really love the internet?

Would you give up the internet for a million dollars?

Many people say they would not. If you are one of them, and in a committed relationship, which of the following is true:

a) You would also not give up your partner for a million dollars

b) The internet is more valuable to you than your partner

The first one looks safer. But people change partners a lot, which suggests for many there is much less than a million dollars expected difference between one’s partner and the next best alternative, since the next best alternative frequently scales that gap and becomes the best. If every time a person changed partners the relative value of the new and old partners had changed by around two million dollars in the new partner’s favor, people should pretty soon stop expecting their current partner to be worth so much in the long run.

It’s easy to offer the internet endless love while nobody ever offers you much reward for giving it up. Relationships are an interesting ‘sacred value’ to compare because we really are frequently in a position to give one up permanently for some other benefit.

10 responses to “How much do you really love the internet?

  1. Maybe not everything translates into dollars… Is this post a farce intended to highlight the weakness of economic analysis when applied generally?

    Maybe this will be the first in a series of posts, if you’re open to suggestions, how about comparing the monetary unwillingness of some people to shred a bible or burn a flag when compared with the price of buying a new one?

  2. You seem to be conflating two comparisons:
    a) the internet v. my partner
    b) the internet v. the marginal value of my current partner over the best alternative
    I don’t think this shows what you think it shows.

    • I’m talking about b)

      • I think you should add a discussion of the “next best alternative to the internet” then. Thinking in those terms, I don’t have any trouble concluding that I wouldn’t give up the internet for a million dollars (spend an hour or more making a trip to the library every time I want to look up some random fact? no thanks!!), but I could give up a romantic partner for it if I felt the relationship was still far from ideal for me.

        • That’s not saying much – people often give up romantic relationships for no reason beyond that it isn’t ideal. What if you felt it was ideal?

          • For me, this would start to depend on other details of the counterfactual. E.g. I am inclined to very strongly reward a partner’s loyalty, whereas that is not an issue with the Internet.

            (However, this makes the value of the “next best alternative” a more important consideration in the Internet case than the relationship case! I’m curious what you have in mind as the next best alternative to the Internet here.)

          • Michael Vassar

            Who has ever had an ideal romantic relationship?

  3. Alexei Andreev

    This world is big enough where most likely I can find an equal partner, after giving one up. The question is: how much time/resources will it take? If it takes less than $1 million, then it’s a worthwhile trade.

  4. The internet is pervasive, and ever moreso. So the question seems poorly formed; I’m not sure what I would have to give up to “give up the internet.”

    An internet connection at home? Okay, that’s part of what we must give up in the bargain. But give it up at work as well? Many jobs, including mine, simply cannot be done without the internet, so one million dollars would actually be much less when you take into account the high-paying jobs for which I could not compete.

    And then what about asking questions of others, given the fact that they will often fetch the answer from the internet? This happens repeatedly when I am at gatherings with friends — someone regularly has an iPad, smartphone, or netbook out, looking up some datum relevant to the conversation. Would I have to stop asking people anything? If I don’t have to, then I could “give up the internet” for myself, yet have my significant other look things up for me.

    No one can answer in a meaningful way without more information as to what exactly would need to be given up. In a significant sense, the internet cannot be given up these days without giving up one’s social embeddedness in a developed nation.

  5. An article from the early 2000’s by Andrew Odlyzko, ‘Content is not King’, argued that if the functionality of the internet is divided into two categories – content and communication – then it turns out that the communication aspect is ultimately much more important for people than the content.

    http://www.dtc.umn.edu/~odlyzko/doc/history.communications2.pdf

    It might be more interesting to make the same division when asking people to determine the money value of the internet wrt their personal lives. Many more people would perhaps be happy to give up the content of the internet (movies, music, YouTube, porn, most websites, and pirated downloads) for a million dollars, than they would the communication tools (mail, social networking, chat, Twitter, and to some extent, blogs).

    Content is more tangilble than communication channels, so is likely more easy to put a dollar value on. Also, the greater value people place on personal communication than content is also interesting from the point of view of bandwidth requirements versus willingness to pay, especially in cases like the Oz governments fiber-optic-to-the-home network rollout.

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