Do you remember when the Straits Times ceased to be free online? Almost 10 years ago. Now almost every major newspaper charges for access, but the Straits Times was one of the first. Putting up paywalls when I could surf almost every site for free – on a computer which still sits on a desk at home, idle, unattended.
The silver laptop is greying, unopened because it no longer works; it’s given up the ghost. Even I can’t tell exactly when it died. When I tried to boot it up one day, it just stuttered and froze, refusing to start up. By then it was already old and there was a new computer at home. But I can’t throw it away. It has so many memories.
When computers die these days, they don’t take all your data with them. Your precious documents and photographs may still be there, waiting for you in the cloud, to show up on your new computer, smartphone or tablet whenever you want.
So why is the dead laptop still gathering dust in the house? Am I being lazy? Sentimental?
It’s a reminder of better times. When the internet was really free. I logged hours and hours on that laptop, reading everything from The Times to the New York Times for free.
But that was the way it was.
Newspapers offered free online access because the digital medium was so cheap, explained Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired magazine. He even wrote a book called Free about the new phenomenon.
He spoke too soon.
Now others have followed the lead of the Straits Times, which proclaimed when it ceased to be free:
“We believe that we have a good and valuable product that users will want to pay for. It’s also not a tenable business model to charge for the print edition of the newspaper and not for its online edition.”
I can understand the publishers’ reluctance to give away for free content created by their paid staff.
But the new normal has lowered expectations about the internet.
Younger Americans –ages 16 to 29 – are more likely than their elders to say that important information is not available on the internet, reported the Pew Research Center earlier this month.
The information may be there, but hiding behind paywalls.
The dead laptop sitting in the house harks back to days when information was really free.
Younger millennials may not even recall those days. I wonder whether even those working at the Straits Times remember when their website ceased to be free.
So how do I know? Because of a blog.
Technology blogger Om Malik wrote about how Google could help preserve history. So I did a Google search and came upon this blog post by mrbrown dated February 25, 2005, headlined “No more free Straits Times online.”
The blog post has outlived my computer.