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Would You Blog From the Unemployment Line?

Many of us spend a lot of time giving away our creative and intellectual labor for free: editing Wikipedia entries, putting our music on MySpace, blogging, micro-blogging, uploading photos to Flickr, putting videos on YouTube, and pasting goofy phrases onto cat pictures.

Plenty of web sites make a living from the content that people provide for free. But Andrew Keen (an author who is famously grumpy about user-generated content) wonders now if the economic crisis will kill off free content on the internet, leaving only web sites that “reward their contributors with cash.” He writes:

One of the very few positive consequences of the current financial miasma will be a sharp cultural shift in our attitude toward the economic value of our labor. Mass unemployment and a deep economic recession comprise the most effective antidote to the utopian ideals of open-source radicals. … I’m pretty sure, if not certain, that the idea of free labor will suddenly become profoundly unpalatable to someone faced with their house being repossessed or their kids going hungry. Being paid to work is intuitive to the human condition; it represents our most elemental sense of justice.

Depends on how you define work.

If you’re Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, you’ve come to believe that the reason we blog, comment, and otherwise post free stuff to the web is that it’s fun — not work — at least as fun as watching TV, and maybe more engaging.

So is the financial crisis really the end of free content on the internet, or is it another excuse for us to type away at each other?