The Atlantic's "Sexes" blog (where I have previously contributed) is having some kind of epic battle about online dating. In one of the responses, Northwestern University philosophy professor Peter Ludlow wrote about the variable transaction costs in markets and how online markets reduce friction drastically. Now, generally I'd be the person to say this is just wholly awesome. I do think it's awesome. But he mentioned something that got me thinking:
It is a deep dark secret of mine that I used to be a philatelist—yes, you can denigrate that fine hobby by calling it stamp collecting if you wish. I collected certain kinds of 19th-century postal history (mailed envelopes) and I used to enjoy travelling from dealer to dealer digging through bins of musty postal history looking for the items that I collected. And then the Internet happened.
Collecting postal history has gone from a labor of seeking out interesting shops and sales and digging through musty boxes to one of logging on to eBay, typing in a search request (19th-century postal history), and clicking on whatever envelope covers catch my eye. The search process has for all practical purposes become frictionless, and the net result is that it just isn't fun anymore. My collection has been placed in a storage locker. I'm done with it.
I'm not a big shopper, and I'm not a big collector. But I did used to love shopping for vinyl LPs. While everyone seems to think records are more valuable than they actually are, there are some things that are worth a pretty penny. It used to be fun to find some rare album that was way undervalued. Or maybe you'd read a great New Yorker profile about some older jazz artist and you'd go find his records before everyone else did.
It took work to flip through bin after bin of record or hit the right yard sales.
With the rise of these online auction sites, there are no information gaps to be exploited. Records sell for precisely what they should, whether online or in local stores. Everyone can check out the value of a given record by just looking through sale histories.
On the one hand, this is a testament to everything cool about technology, information sharing, markets, capitalism, you name it.
On the other hand, I'm not into scrounging for records any more.
Yes, I can process the fact that this means that we're maximizing profits and that we've definitely maxed out on our collective utils. But, still, I miss diving into record bins.