They’d Take The Million

A survey [in 1992] indicated that 46 percent of Americans would be unwilling to give up television for the rest of their lives in return for a million dollars. (more)

How much would someone have to pay you to give up the Internet for the rest of your life? Would a million dollars be enough? Twenty million? How about a billion dollars? “When I ask my students this question, they say you couldn’t pay me enough.” (more)

I believe that most people think they wouldn’t give up TV or the internet for a million. They might even actually reject such an offer if it came out of the blue with little time to consider. And I’m happy to admit people get a lot of value out of tv and internet relative to the price they now pay. But reframe this offer so that it has more time to generate social support, and no way would most people reject it.

At 5% interest, a million dollars pays ~$4000 a month. So let’s imagine offering people $4000 to give up TV or internet for one month, and then renewing the offer every month afterward – they could go on or off the plan at will. Furthermore, let the offer be made to every member of a median-income community of one thousand folks, all of whom know several other folks in the community. This community might be a neighborhood, a workplace, a church, etc.

Under these circumstances I predict that within ten years over 80% of them would be on the plan in any given month. First they’d see that the offer is real, and they’d also see all the fun their associates have splurging or quitting work and enjoying their leisure in non-tv/internet ways. Then they’d try it themselves and like it, and mostly stick with it.

Thus I think the survey questions above are quite misleading on the value people actually place on tv and internet. Misleading features of these survey questions:

  1. They require a sudden commitment regarding one’s entire future life, rather than giving people a chance to learn and adapt to this new possibility. Most people are commitment averse.
  2. They ask people to become weird, accepting an offer made to no one else, and leaving the familiar world of their associates’ options and actions.
  3. They put people in a far (vs. near) frame of mind and then ask them to affirm a high value on money. In far mode people are idealistic, and so think they care less about money.

Even today a million dollars is a lot of money, enough that most people would do a lot to get it.

Added 7p: Commenters are eager to declare they wouldn’t take the internet deal, and seem uninterested in my claim that 80% of median income folks would take the deal, which pays median household income (~50K$/yr) just to not use the internet. It seems important to many commenters’ identity to declare their allegiance to the internet, i.e., that without it they might as well shrivel up and die.

Added 12July: Tyler Cowen reviews the academic lit on willingness to pay for internet – its about 2% of income, or less than $100 a month.

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  • dWj

    Indeed, the $4000 per month offer is much different, both in terms of optionality and in terms of wealth (“income”) effects, which are substantial at that scale.

  • David C

    Give up TV? I already did. Give up the internet for $4000? Maybe I’d take that once or twice a year, but most of the time? Hell no. I agree with the students. Now that most of the best things in life are free or very cheap, money isn’t worth nearly as much as it used to be.

  • J. Cross

    I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t accept the $4000 a month to give up either TV or Internet. What could I possibly do with that money that would be better than TV and internet? I’m assuming that giving them up doesn’t just mean that I can’t use them in my apartment but rather can’t use them anywhere.

    • John

      Wait, really? You would turn down getting paid a middle-class income simply to not watch TV? You could spend your days visiting museums, watching plays, attending concerts, going to sports games, engaging in recreational activities, roughing it in the outdoors, travelling to exotic places, meeting with friends, trying out different restaurants, reading books, doing arts and crafts, picking up new hobbies and interests, learning new talents… I hope I don’t come off as a troll here, I’m just genuinely surprised that anyone intelligent enough to read this blog would see this deal as anything but a no-brainer.

      • J. Cross

        Hmmm… I have a 2 year old and a second kid on the way so travelling the world isn’t really an option right now. I like my job enough that I wouldn’t want to quit it even if it didn’t provide income and I prefer iTunes and sports on TV to concerts and sporting events. My hobbies are (perhaps sadly) tied to the internet. Lastly, for sake of full disclosure, my wife makes several times what I make.

  • James Koppel

    The Internet is of such productive importance that, in pure money terms, taking the million would probably be a bad tradeoff even if I didn’t plan to spend much of my life building web apps.

    In comparison, I had mostly given up TV by the time I began high school.

  • billswift

    I wouldn’t take any amount for giving up the internet for the rest of my life, there are too many unknowns about future capabilities for me to be willing to take that offer. But if you want to pay me $50,000 to give it up for the next 10 years I would be agreeable. I think too many people agree too easily to “rest of life” claims/offers in the abstract without thinking through what “rest of life” really entails.

    As for TV, since 1993 I have watched it for 2 weeks I spent in a motel while moving in 2001 (by coincidence I happened to be watching on 9-11) and I have a DVD/TV for watching movies, it isn’t even connected so that I could watch TV.

  • tylerh

    Where are you going to earn 5%, after tax, risk free?

    If someone offered me that investment opportunity, I’d give up TV AND the million dollars.

    A more realistic number is 2%, or $1,600/month.

    • David Joerg

      ^^ this

    • I never said “risk free.”

      • So, which risks were you positing, what risk free interest rate is that risk level equivlane to, and why did you not use that number for purposes of discussion?

        Also, agreed with David_Jeorg and tylerh.

  • tylerh

    Also, I believe the marginal value of watching TV is known: isn’t that how Cable companies set their rates?

  • Television and internet are qualitatively different services. Television is one-way, feeding you information that you could also get from newspapers or radio, and entertainment you could get by reading a book, going to the movies, or going for a ride on a roller-coaster.

    The internet provides all of these services, but it is also the default mode of communication in our society. Are we including “email” as part of the internet? Can I sign up for mailing lists? Most of the social events I hold and attend are coordinated over email and social networking websites. If I had to make individual phone calls or write letters in order to hold a big party at my house, I’d almost never hold big parties. My social life would be fundamentally different. There’s all kinds of non-internet entertainment out there, but a lot of it becomes a lot more accessible when you can use Google to find it.

    So when you ask someone to give up the internet for $4000 a month, what you are really asking them to do is asking whether they are willing to completely restructure their social lives. Given that most of the things of value in my life are things I’ve discovered through the internet, I’m dubious that this would be worth the money.

    • Paul

      I completely agree with this point, and would have authored a similar one in its absence on this forum.

      I would like to add that the “two-way” feature of internet allows people to see the internet as a massive extension of their brainpower (memory, reference). $1 million for XX of your IQ points…any takers?

      The “real option” point (value of the month-version’s option to quit) is also essential…it is unclear what society in 2020, 2030 will be like wrt the internet.

      I loved RH’s point 2 (“forces people to be weird”), though.

  • michael vassar

    Err… are you joking? The marginal value of a month of internet and of $4K is totally different from the marginal value of a life of internet and $1M. That said, I wouldn’t even take $4K for a month unless I wanted to go on vacation.

    TV? I don’t watch and neither do most people I know. It’s an inferior good.

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      TV? I don’t watch and neither do most people I know. It’s an inferior good.

      But, but…It’s the weather channel that lets us know if there are too many
      electrical storms in the area to safely turn on the modem… 🙂

  • Michael E Sullivan

    I haven’t watched television proper for 4 years, and I would certainly be willing to give up what television I watch on itunes, netflix, etc. forever for a million dollars — I don’t even need to think about it very hard. If you aren’t even talking about things produced for television, but only the actual tube, then I’ve already done it, and so have many people I know.

    The internet is a whole other ball of wax. It would require a complete restructuring of my social and professional life. I’m not at all sure it would be worth 4000 a month to me. Now, I could take that deal for one month out of the year, perhaps.

    One thing to note — as a young fresh-out-of-college kid, I actually *paid* about $750/month between internet and long distance charges to get internet access for nearly a year (on a 30k/year income) in order to get on the internet. And this was in 1991, before the internet was everywhere (hence why it cost that much for me). But it still had usenet and mailing lists and irc and various other things that I had developed a whole social life around while I was in college and had free internet access. Just cutting myself off from that would have been terrible, and I was willing to spend nearly 30% of my income to stay online. Fortunately, I only had to maintain that expense level for about a year before acceptable access became widely available. But that was a real test of the worth of the internet. And of course, today — it is worth *far*, *far* more.

    There is no *way* I would take the million dollars now but no internet forever deal. I have no idea what that will mean in 5-10 years, let alone 20-30. A million dollars? Not unless I really was worried I’d not be able to make it without the money.

  • I think people perceive the questions as trick questions, a question designed to prepare the victim to be scammed.

    Why would anyone pay so much money for someone to stop watching TV or stop using the internet? There is no good reason. It is most likely just a scam question used to bait the hook. After agreeing, eventually it will lead to “just wire $2500 to this account to cover processing costs and $1,002,500 will be wired right back”. “Honest”.

  • You fucked up with this one Robin.

    You may be right about TV, but I’m job hunting right now, and can’t imagine doing it without the internet. And “oh, if you hire me, I can never respond to e-mail because I took this deal…” wouldn’t go over well with potential employers.

    Not to mention that I’ve always wanted to be a creative type, and the internet is arguably now THE place for creative types to promote (and in many cases distribute) their work.

  • Sophronius

    No tv for one million, for sure. Even if that includes watching movies on my computer. Being without internet for the rest of my life for one million? Hell no. I am confident that I can acquire large amounts of money either way, and if I do become rich the first thing I would want is internet. I could imagine myself accepting the offer if the amount became larger though. 10 million, maybe.

  • Drewfus

    How much would someone have to pay you to give up the Internet for the rest of your life?
    Would a million dollars be enough? Twenty million? How about a billion dollars?
    “When I ask my students this question, they say you couldn’t pay me enough.”

    Given that the quality of a good or service varies inversely with the determinicity of demand, it follows from the above example that the Internet must be crap.

    Put another way, if people value the Internet much more than they have to pay for it, then the quality of the content only needs to be just enough to induce them to continue paying for it. Quality works on a marginal basis, just as quantity does.

    • example that the Internet must be crap. Put another way, if people value the Internet much more than they have to pay for it, then the quality of the content only needs to be just enough to induce them to continue paying for it. Quality works on a marginal basis, just as quantity does

      Congatulations: you just proved that all (free) sex with one’s spouse must be miserable.

      I’m not married, but I *think* you made a mistake somewhere.

      • Drewfus

        You forgot about love.

        Unlike economists, mother nature is aware of the determinicity-quality tradeoff, and biases animals with chemicals to add qualitative features to (relatively) deterministic experiences. Our experience of this chemical rigging is called emotion.

        Emotions like love are not usually apparent in our relationship with the Internet.

  • Chris Hallquist

    I should add that I might take the one- month version of the deal, because I’m at a point in my life where slacking seems like a good deal. Just because someone would do something for a month doesn’t mean it would be rational to commit to doing it for life. And if other people are also going Internet free, it decreases the cost of following suit.

  • Tangurena

    $4k/month pretty much means I can retire from the rat race. As a programmer, much of my work is done on/over/through/with the internet, so willingly banning myself from the internet will be a forced retirement or change of career. I can do it, I used to think otherwise due to my MMORPG addiction, but Sony’s really bad handling of the hacking incident just a couple months ago turned out to be just enough to cure that habit.

    At the rate I’m saving for retirement, I’ll have a megabuck somewhere near 70-72 (my estimate is the crash of 2008 set me back 4+ years). Based on historical ages of death for my parents and grandparents, I’m somewhere between “should be dead already” to “sell by 75”.

    As for the TV, I gave mine away in 2003 and never looked back. When my grandfather died a couple years earlier, the family stood around his (reasonable for that time) TV and said “Tang doesn’t have a TV, this goes to Tang!” much like a bunch of heroin addicts standing around an OD’ed addict saying “Tang lacks fixin’s, so the needle and stuff goes to Tang!”

  • Desertopa

    Giving up tv or the internet doesn’t just mean giving up a source of entertainment, it means giving up a great deal of social currency. If you’re not experiencing the shows or internet media that other members of your social circle are, you lose out on a means of relating to them which that degree of money can’t easily replace.

    Of course, the internet has taken on so many functions in present society that being unable to use it could be disruptive on many levels even for people who don’t use it for entertainment, so I don’t think that it’s a good rhetorical equivalent to television in the early nineties.

    Personally, I am sure I would accept an exchange of $4000 for a month without internet occasionally, perhaps even more than half of the time, but there’s not a chance that I would commit in advance to make the exchange for the rest of my life. I’m not sure where my threshold lies, but I’m pretty confident that I would be willing to make the exchange for a million per month.

  • Sure. I’d take it. But I don’t watch nearly as much TV as the general population.

  • It is, of course, for this exact reason that surveys exist.

    If you were asked to give up four years of your life in order to receive $4000 a month, would you do it? A significant number of people for whom that is an option choose not to.

    But for Robert Hanson, a question: if people were given the choice to give up half their time spent working in order to receive (for example) a 50% higher wage rate, do you think they would?

  • Be honest – does this Onion article ring true for many of you? Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn’t Own a Television.

    I think people are being too harsh on Robin here. Yes, it’s true that his offer differs in substantial ways from the original one. But I don’t think his point was that he could frame the exact same offer in a different way and get vastly greater acceptance. Rather, I think the point is that Robin’s offer looks a lot like the original offer in the eyes of the careless, but is in fact dissimilar. For instance, a morality campaigner could seize on these results and say “Kids these days wouldn’t give up the internet for $1 million. Invested at 5% per annum, that’s $4000 per month – enough to buy hundreds of new books. This is a clear sign that internet addiction has run rampant, and we need to stop it.” Robin is basically making a preempetive rebuttal to this type of argument.

  • MattW

    I watched the video yesterday and I thought it would probably take something like $10 million or more to get me to give up the internet for life.

    Hanson does make a convincing case going month by month. For any given month I would certainly give up the internet for few thousand dollars, but I’m sure I wouldn’t take that deal every month. After a few months without internet the value of the next day online would be quite high.

  • michael vassar

    Robin, in all seriousness, how much would you charge to give up on air travel? Motorized travel? Living in cities with a half million or more residents? Entering such cities? Entering cities with over a hundred thousand residents? The latter would be a larger sacrifice than giving up the internet… today… but a much worse trade to make for life.

    • michael vassar

      Hmm. I wonder if I would prefer to give up money for life or to give up the internet for life. That’s a serious question. I think I’d choose to give up money and get by with favors, fasts and Facebook.

      Symmetrically, I would give up the internet for infinite money, but possibly not for the difference between a couple hundred million dollars and infinite money.

      I definitely would rather temporarily give up the internet than give up above average literacy, but in the long run I’d non-confidently expect even that to change. (pre-Singularity)

  • michael vassar

    I have been thinking about it a bit and I’ve also concluded that I wouldn’t take four thousand dollars a month to commit to watching an average or greater amount of TV, though I think that many people who don’t currently watch TV would be well advised to do so.

  • For $4000 a month you could hire a team of virtual assistants to do any job hunting or responding to e-mails.

  • Lord

    I wouldn’t have any problem taking the deal and I use it intensively. The difference may be I remember the time before it. It would be even easier to give up television as there seems to be less and less on it each year. Doing it now and then would make it really attractive, like taking a vacation from it but returning to it whenever bored or needed, like alternating months of income with months of online research and shopping to spend it.

  • John F

    People saying they wouldn’t give up the internet for $10 million seem absolutely insane to me. Sell your house, move to basically anywhere you want and live a life of luxury until you die. Nahh, rather work 9-5 until I’m 65 so that I don’t have to use the paper for my stock quotes! People, there WAS no internet a few years ago, they did fine. Yes I know, now that everyone has it, you just neeeeed it, but no, actually you (at least I) don’t!

  • Curious that an economist would suggest that 80% would adopt such a scheme without considering the downstream implications. Wouldn’t 80% of workers suddenly getting extra money equal to or greater than their income not cause at least a touch of inflation? Where are the goods and services those 80% are going to purchase and use come from?

    The implicit (but unstated) implication of the question is that the world will stay pretty much the same except for the changes on the individual taking the deal. That can’t be correct if adopted by 80% of the population. There would be a period of hyperinflation until the value of money dropped sufficiently that the supply of goods and services matched what people had to purchase them with. If the supply of goods and services doesn’t increase, then it doesn’t matter how much money is available to purchase them.

    This type of “deal” is a Faustian bargain, where the Devil keeps his side of the agreement but the victim ends up with nothing of value. I think most people have an instinctive and common sense aversion to such deals where they know there must be a catch because it violates basic laws such as supply and demand.

    On the other hand there is also a great desire to get deals like this that are too good to be true. Knowing that a deal is too good to be true and so rejecting it is the basis of the heuristic “you can’t cheat an honest man”. The honest man is not looking for, does not want, and will not accept a dishonest profit; a profit based on a negative sum where his counterpart becomes worse off.

    I think that this type of thinking drives a lot of business decisions and is what is driving the current budget, deficit, unemployment debate. Corporations are sitting on loads of cash. They are not hiring new employees or purchasing new equipment because there is no demand for the goods and services those new employees and new equipment would produce. The reason there is no demand is because so many people are unemployed and have no income to spend on goods and services.

    Those corporations are loaning out their spare cash, but because there is so much of it, and so little demand, interest rates are very low. As one person pointed out, 5% tax free, low risk return is gigantically high in todays economy.

    Real growth can only occur as about the same growth rate as the GDP. Investments in projects associated with real growth can only (on average) achieve similar rates of return. That is why investment bankers fluff up the opaque investments they are selling to make them appear to be lower risk or higher return than they actually are.

    There can be a return premium above the GDP rate associated with liquidity and market inefficiencies. That liquidity premium can only be a small fraction of the whole return in the whole economy because it represents a deviation from an efficient market. To the extent that market inefficiencies are generated and exploited to increase nominal yield in those specific investments, it lowers the net aggregate return in the whole economy. This is what the housing bubble fueled by CDOs did. The nominal higher returns (which were privatized) generated real loses which were eventually socialized by the bank bailout. There was no net generation of value from the housing bubble, it was a net loss because of the inefficiencies the housing bubble produced. If the housing bubble had never happened, the economy would be in much better shape today because there would not have been wealth destruction due to the inefficiencies of the bubble.

    • Corporations are sitting on loads of cash. They are not hiring new employees or purchasing new equipment because there is no demand for the goods and services those new employees and new equipment would produce. The reason there is no demand is because so many people are unemployed and have no income to spend on goods and services.

      As pointed out to me, unless everyone already has a certain good you can generally increase demand by lowering price… the reason companies don’t do this is because they are playing the “get the highest profits possible” game, and that would lower their profits. The reason other companies can’t undercut them is that their goods do not provide the same utility, and as a result those other companies suffer from “lack of customers” and “low demand”. The reason their goods do not have the same utility is that do not provide the same signalling value as a brand (or rarely, in device compatibility and network effects).

      So the important result of this situation is that lower-tier companies do not feel like they are sitting on loads of cash, and are therefore resistant to “higher taxes” and so on. If people were really concerned with improving their positions, “essential” goods would probably be experiencing a price decline while “luxury” goods a price increase, until eventually people stopped being luxury goods and the non-luxury economy sorted itself out with most at wages equal to that book about meat factories in Chicago or wherever, and we would have lots of fun strikes and riots that decreased productivity to the point of lower unemployment.

      But encouraging people to work less would probably be better.

    • The companies with sufficient cash to be loaning it are not the ones complaining about insufficient customers.

      A lot of companies would not need “more investment” to expand; they would just need to hire more people and pay other marginal costs. Even for manufacturing, plants are usually at 70~80% production capacity, aren’t they?

      But anyway. It isn’t the “giving them more cash” and letting them invest that will cause them to have more customers; the purpose is to change the decisions that consumers and employees make, not the decisions that companies make. Working less and making less money means fewer iPods purchased (both because it is financially unviable and also because abandoning the signal of income means it’s easier to abandon the signal of luxury goods), while working less specifically when employed by companies making high profits means high wage costs selectively for profitable companies (or in this case, lower wage costs for everyone else except profitable companies) which makes them slightly less profitable.

      Investment is not the goal. Reducing unemployment is the goal, even if it means a drop in the total amount of hours worked.

      “According to the study, between the second quarter of 2009, when the recovery began, and the fourth quarter of 2010, national income rose by $528 billion, with $464 billion of that growth going to pretax corporate profits, while just $7 billion went to aggregate wages and salaries, after accounting for inflation.”
      From Economix NYT blog, these are the companies that people don’t need to earn money to buy from, because if people’s wages go down these companies can either lower their prices, or they can accept a drop in sales volume due to selling a product that is based off of utility as a signal, not for intrinsic utility in a competitive market.

  • Matt

    I think a lot of people have already made this choice. How much time does the average CEO spend watching TV or playing on the internet? Probably not much. How much time does the highest paid person in any given office or work environment spend on TV or the internet? Probably less than the lowest paid worker.

    Intuitively, I just think the internet (maybe not TV) is worth more than 4000 dollars a month to most people living around the median. A lot of people with serious passions and hobbies probably would take the deal but I’m guessing that’s less than half.

    Also, this might be missing the point, but if 80% of people had an extra $4000 a month, wouldn’t that wreak havoc on the economy? What effect would that have on inflation? There would be some very weird markets emerging, I think.

  • Alrenous

    The problem I have with this kind of experiment is that it’s not properly definable.

    Do I get to hire someone to use the internet for me? Buy something off Amazon, for instance?

    Exactly how ‘internetty’ does a product or service have to be before I give it up? If my cellphone company starts using VOIP as a tower intermediary, do I get to keep it?

    If I use a library internet, how would they catch me? If I used an internet inadvertently, say at a museum kiosk, would anybody know? If so, what would the punishment be?

    You have to think about the implications to get anything beyond a random knee-jerk reaction, yet these implications simply can’t add up to anything reasonable.

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      Very good points. At this point the internet is a pervasive
      communications medium. It is not clear how much indirect use
      would be precluded by the deal. I could live without web-surfing,
      but losing everything that is in any way supported by the internet
      would be far more disruptive. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if
      my electric utility uses an internet connection for reading the meter.
      If I had to replace my connection to the electric grid with e.g. a
      generator and diesel fuel deliveries, and handling everything
      involved with physical mail – that could cost a good deal more
      than $4000/month, even with no other costs.

  • M

    Robin makes some good points here.

    Saying you wouldn’t give up the internet for X billion, by the way, signals lots of good things… probably the most important being that you already have enough money for a very comfortable life. It also associates you with smart people (types who get the most utility out of the internet) AND signals that you have a very enjoyable job (See reasons given by commenter J. Cross above.)

    I suspect Robin is right that most Americans would take the $4,000/month deal after they saw some friends do it, and that if, after a year of being on the deal they had to either switch to a lifetime plan or get back to work, most Americans would also take the lifetime deal.

    That somewhat undercuts the point of the video linked on Reason, which is that we’re all ridiculously better off because of new tech (and indeed we are, but it’s probably not by more than a million or two for the median person.)

    Personally though, I’d need at least several hundred million — maybe a billion — to take the deal. 😉

  • DK

    Please pay me ten bucks to give up TV – I already did. Million bucks to give up Internet? No way! With that money, I won’t be able to compensate, given how much of the daily practical things are tied up into Internet. Twenty millions? I am taking it in a second! That’s a no brainer. Half of that money will go into finding ways of getting Internet-like experience without Internet, and another half sets me free for life. Works nicely. Where do I apply? 🙂

  • Joseph Teicher

    I wouldn’t give up TV for $1M but I’d give up blogs for $50

  • I would do it for an amount of money sufficient to create a technologically superior alternative to the Internet to which everyone else would later switch.

  • Alexander Kruel

    Not even for a billion.

  • Michael E Sullivan

    If the deal allows you to hire a personal assistant who can do internetty things for you, and to have services that depend on the internet but don’t involve you directly using a connected device, then I would merely lose the ability to do things directly on my own (so games, chat and entertainment are out, but I could still write, comment and research indirectly. So the upper bound on what would be required would what it would cost to pay a competent person to do these things for me for the rest of my life — 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Probably somewhere around 5-10 million dollars. And I’d certainly take that deal, as the lag involved and the stuff I’d miss would be far outweighed by the value of having a personal assistant.

    To the one who suggested you could do this with the 4000 a month — not without the internet — at least not if you want a competent assistant around for most of your waking life. While you can easily find people from poor countries with education on the internet to do these things for less than that — that’s completely unrealistic if you’ve given up the internet.

  • If internet access cost more than $600/month, I am pretty sure that I would not have it at home. I think that neither would most people.

  • Evan

    It seems important to many commenters’ identity to declare their allegiance to the internet, i.e., that without it they might as well shrivel up and die.

    My thoughts when suggested this idea wasn’t loyalty to the Internt, but instead thinking about how many things I wouldn’t be able to do if I didn’t have it. Most of my decisions about what movies to watch next, books to read, comic storylines to follow, etc. are based on the Internet. And I obtain a lot of entertainment material from the Internet through streaming or e-commerce. My favorite shows are comedic movie reviews streamed from a website. And I write scifi stories for fun in my spare time, it would be a lot harder to research them without the Internet. And if I couldn’t use the Internet to request obscure books from local libraries, I’d have to buy them all myself if I wanted to read them.

    To obtain the same material I obtain on the Internet I’d have to hire a team of people to scour used bookstores, movie stores, and comic shops and even then I doubt I’d find a tenth of what I could find with the Internet. And it would be painful to never be able to watch Nostalgia Critic again. It would cost me a huge amount of money to duplicate my Internet experience, so it’s probably worth more than $4000 a month for me. If I really need money I might take a month off, as Robin suggests, but more would be painful.

    People saying they wouldn’t give up the internet for $10 million seem absolutely insane to me. Sell your house, move to basically anywhere you want and live a life of luxury until you die.

    That’s the thing. I don’t care about luxury. When I want money it’s so I can use it to accomplish goals, not live in luxury. I suppose Robin would say that signals something about me, although I’m not sure what it is.

    In spite of my strenous personal objections, however, I can see Robin’s point for the median person. Most people don’t have bizarre and obscure interests like I do. If I gave up the Internet it would mean making it much harder for me to accomplish my goals. For someone less weird than I am, this might be a good deal.

  • gregorylent

    tv, yes, bye-bye years ago

    internet, no, not for a million .. unless it fills with ads .. then also, bye-bye

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  • MarcTheEngineer

    TV would be easy… the only thing I really hate missing on TV at the moment are certain sports events and for 4K per month I could easily go see all of them in person (which I would prefer).

    If the internet cost 4000$ a month I couldn’t afford to use it and therefore I wouldn’t (but nobody I know could afford it either and therefore my social circle would remain intact… although how people organized sport teams/leagues before the internet is almost a mystery to me)

    I can afford to not make an extra 4K and if I knew it was ONLY for a month I could go without… although if that month was January it would certainly make the decision much more difficult.

  • Added 12July: Tyler Cowen reviews the academic lit on willingness to pay for internet – its about 2% of income, or less than $100 a month.

    Now just imagine the consumer surplus from having clean, running water..!

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  • Matt

    First of all, I’d like to know who gave the writer here the right to tell me what I would do in a given situation. Second, if for some reason I were to take the money, the first thing I’d do with it is get the internet back.

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  • candy

    Life without the internet is hard to even imagine at this point. I don’t even know what people did with all their time prior to ~1992 or so. They must have read paper books, I guess?

    It’s a difficult proposition for me, it basically equates to: “Would you take a million dollars to never again speak to most of the people you’ve met in your life?”

  • Fabio Franco

    This question and discussion reminded me of one of my favorite short stories of all time — Chekhov’s “The Bet” — in which a young man agrees to be imprisoned for 15 years in exchange for millions of rubles from a wealthy older banker. He was not allowed to see or talk to anyone but could have access to any book he wanted. It’s well worth the read:

    I, for one, would take the million and forego the $ 4,000 — to make sure I was locked into the deal. I would be more tranquil with the irreversible choice, instead of forever struggling with the devilish option of one day reverting back to the Internet. And then, I would read hundreds of more books than I would have otherwise….

  • A.

    I’ve often thought that people are too ready to say that they wouldn’t do X even for £1m (or even $1m), because we’ve come to think of such sums as being relatively small even though for the overwhelming majority of people they’re not.

    There aren’t many things I wouldn’t do for a million.

    Like everyone else here, I don’t watch TV so wouldn’t be bothered about that.

    I’m going to go out on a limb (safe in the knowledge admittedly that I’ll never have to substantiate my words) and say that unlike most people here I *would* give up the internet for life for $1m. I’d probably get far more done and be much happier if I did, even without the million.

  • Michael Kirkland

    Could you give up the internet, even if you honestly tried to do so? That means no telephone, television, banking, and in some cases voting, paying your taxes, buying books or tickets to cultural/sporting events, because all of those things rely on the internet in whole or in part.

    If 80% of the population accepted the no internet deal, they would very shortly set up their own wide area network which would supersede the internet.

    If you expand that to no computers, well, that means adding things like all major appliances, electricity, running water if it’s metered, and central heating to the list of things you also have to give up.

  • What amount of money would it take you to be banished to an island where everyone you interact with is a paid servant?

    It won’t be long before everyone in the world is an internet user of some sort (via SMS initially, but that morphs into broadband quickly). Which means that in order to maintain any sort of normal social relationship you will have to be too. How hard is it to deal with your friends who refuse to check email, and respond to texts or phone calls? Remember, phone is going to all be internet-based soon enough.

    This isn’t about economics, it’s about human connection, community and personal identity. No man is an island.

  • Pete

    I have a hard time getting out and about. If I had to do without the internet, I would kill myself rather than try to figure a way to do without it. It came along just in the nick of time for me.

    So, NO, not for any amount of money.

  • Charity

    I WOULD definetly take the million… Invested correctly, it could last the rest of my, and my families life comfortably. My husband is a disabled veteran, and all we want is peace and quiet. That would do just fine. One million, and no internet (which we are on all day) sounds like a deal to me!

  • The first citation seems to be entirely broken – I can find nothing about Cowen in the link

    I looked up the citation in Cowen’s book. The reference is:

    “Would You Give Up TV for a Million Bucks?” 1992. TV Guide, October 10, pp. 10–15

    TV Guide?

    • Cant find the original link, so substituted a more direct one.

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