Sometimes, all it takes is a one-word prompt to get us writing.

Today’s Daily Post writing prompt: CHEAT

Cheat — how that word conjures up memories from school long ago. Cheating was forbidden and probably still is. But let’s think about it differently.

Cheating, which we might think of as taking someone elses’ ideas and answers or copying their work, is really a concept of the scarcity mentality. Cheating is seen as taking advantage for personal gain. Whatever is cheated is imagined to be in short supply and to be a personal property for the exclusive use of whoever produced it. It is not for sharing unless willingly given, and doing that weakens personal advantage.

A concept of capitalism?

Maybe we can see the prohibition on cheating as belonging primarily to capitalist societies. They put private property first and foremost, thus to make use of something some individual had produced for your own purposes is seen as theft.

It has perhaps been in the recorded music and film industries that we have seen this attitude manifested most militantly. Rather than sit down and have a good think and chat about how online digital technology made copying their intellectual property easy and how they could adapt to this new reality and develop a new bisuness model around it, they threatened their customers with prosecution. All that did was make enemies of the people who had earlier brought their products — their customers. Copy music or films and you cheat us of our profits, they insinuated.

Out of time

Maybe the idea of cheating is one of those ideas that is now out of time. Maybe it has run its course. Maybe technology that makes copying so easy has disrupted the idea as much as it has disrupted the business model of those tired and expired old music and film industries. As some have pointed out, digital tech takes the scarcity of physical products like music and film DVDs and turns it into the abundance of digital products. The marginal cost of reproducing physical objects is high. That of reproducing digital copies is zero.

Maybe we need a new approach to the concept of cheating. While it was definitely taboo in the days I went to school, my working life has taught me about the value of collaboration. But in collaboration, in cooperating on a common endeavour, there can be no cheating, no hoarding knowledge and skills for yourself for your individual benefit. You are part of a team and teams are based on sharing.

Is it now time to discard the concept of cheating and replace it with sharing? Digital tech encourages this and people have acted on that through the concept of open source. That’s based not on keeping things for yourself but on sharing them, on spreading them around for others to use. In a society with open source and sharing values, cheating becomes as obsolete as cultivating the soil with a wooden plough.