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The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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1.1  Scarcity

An image of an open box of chocolates. There is only one chocolate left in the tray.
Figure 1 Scarcity

One perspective of relevance to teaching and learning is the effect that sudden, and great, abundance of learning content and resources has on how educators approach learning. There is an obvious relation to economics here. Traditional economics can be viewed as a study of the impact of scarcity. In his 1932 essay Robbins defined economics as ‘the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses’.

But when goods become digital and available online then scarcity disappears. They are non-rivalrous so that if a copy is taken, it is still available for others. They are distributed free on a global scale (if we ignore infrastructure costs which apply to all content). When analysing the lessons from other industries the problems they have faced can be viewed as essentially making a transition from an economics of scarcity to an economics of abundance. If the music industry is considered from this perspective then the traditional model can be said to have been based around the following assumptions:

  • talent is scarce
  • locating it is difficult
  • content is physical
  • content is manufactured according to demand
  • access to it is scarce

What follows from this set of assumptions is the structure of the entire industry. Talent is discovered by Artists and Repertoire (A and R) agents, who spend their time attending concerts, building networks and talking with bands to find new talent. Once discovered artists are signed exclusively to a label, who then record their content and produce this in a physical format. This is then distributed via a logistics network to a chain of shops. With limited opening hours, the consumer could then go to the shop to purchase the item, if it was in stock, or order it if not, because storage space would be limited. After a period, depending on popularity, the item would cease to be produced and become available only via second-hand record shops.