Crowdsourcing troubles me. I have a hard time separating it from begging. And I wonder, is it a veneer of anonymity that gives crowdsourcing a social palatability that begging doesn’t have?
It’s not that I don’t support the idea of supporting talent–it is, after all a time-honored social system—patronage. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a product of patronage, as is Michaelangelo’s David. Today, we enjoy so many great works of creativity because the artist had a patron who supported him or her. But how crowdsourcing differs from patronage is in the product–there has to be one. If there isn’t, an ethical principle is being polluted.
That ethical principle is why, traditionally, Girl Scouts have sold cookies and people have held bake sales and spaghetti suppers to raise money for their cause. They do this because they intrinsically understand that there needs to be an exchange of power.
My father once told me a story. Many years ago, when he was doing some repairs on his sailboat in Bermuda, two young Bermudians came up to him and asked him for money. He knew how he looked to them—white American with a sailboat; must be rich. But coming from a place of having earned the money through sacrifice and hard work to be in a position of being able to repair his sailboat in Bermuda, he didn’t give them money, instead he told them: “Never ask for money, always offer something for sale.” With his words, he was reminding them of the importance of their own self-respect. The kids went away and a few hours later came back with a bead necklace. My father bought it. The balance of power and therefore self-respect was maintained on both sides.
The ease of internet anonymity may be tempting to some, but the price is self-respect. Don’t ask; sell.