There’s no such thing as FREE!

It’s a free world, so please feel free to disagree with my opinion, you have freedom of speech after all, but I do think that we use the word ‘free’ rather more liberally than perhaps we should.

If the phrase ‘The Free World’ resonates with you the way it does with me then, like me, you probably grew up during the 60’s and 70’s.

The Free World was the propaganda riposte to the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. It was the opposite of communism, the antithesis of dictatorship. The Free World was the system that opposed state control. With the boundless enthusiasm of the time, the US government put a lot of effort into convincing us that The Free World was where we wanted to live. And they succeeded, perhaps a little to well.

People took up the idea of freedom and ran with it. In almost exactly 100 years the idea of freedom went from the emancipation of the slaves to a summer of free love, to the band that gave us ‘All Right Now’ and Peter Fonda declaring that ‘We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do.’

‘Free’ had become one of the most powerful words on the planet and the marketing industry weren’t slow in noticing that.

‘Free with every…’

From the free gift in every pack to the wonderfully named BOGOF, the popularity of ‘free’ has been irresistible to, weirdly, people who are trying to sell you stuff.

Of course, what they mean by ‘free’ isn’t actually the same as how you and I understand the word. It might mean that they have reduced their profit margin a little in the case of buy one, get one free. It might mean that the cost has been transferred to some other point in the transaction or, increasingly, it might mean that the seller is going to get something he regards as being more valuable from you than a few quid; they are getting your name, address and contact details. Sign up for a free offer and you’ve made someone’s marketing day.

Once you’ve clicked the button and bought whatever it was that you wanted to buy you will be expecting…

Free delivery.

Offering free delivery almost brought the UK’s biggest supermarkets to their knees because, obviously, delivery is not free, it is expensive. Most of them now offer a delivery pass on orders of a certain size and perhaps at restricted times but a lot of other on-line retailers still offer free delivery, and even free returns.

One of the big costs entailed in that system is the carbon footprint of hundreds of thousands of brown cardboard boxes containing unwanted shopping being driven up and down our roads. That’s not my idea of ‘free’.

Freedom of the press.

This used to be important, and it still is; just for different reasons.

A free press was one of the cornerstones of the Free World; it was something we had that ‘they’ didn’t. It meant that journalists could report on the facts without fear of persecution, it meant that corruption could be uncovered and the truth be told.

Phone tapping, celebrity stalking, private email publishing and a level of political bias – either one way or the other – that would be laughable if it wasn’t so divisive. The free press seem to have decided that the only way they can keep their shareholders and their owners happy is to abandon the search for the truth that made their freedoms so worth protecting in the first place.

It isn’t a freedom when it’s abused.

Freedom of speech.

Social media, more that anything else, has amplified everyone’s voice. It has also amplified the outrage that people’s words and opinions can spark.

‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ is a famous quote from the 1900’s that was often used to describe the principle of freedom of speech. Does it describe how people think and behave today?

No? Then perhaps, for many reasons, free speech is no longer the right that we often assume it is.

Calorie free and alcohol free.

The thing I often wonder when I see that something has been taken out of a kilo of this or a litre of that is, what has been put in it’s place? ‘Calories replaced with sweeteners,’ might be more accurate. ‘Alcohol replaced with..?’ (I have no idea.)

The word ‘free’ means a lot of things these days, but seldom does it seem to mean what it says. Perhaps it’s enjoying freedom of speech or freedom of the price?

Free chlorine?

I felt that there should be some specific relevance to pools and spas in this article and this was the one that came to mind.

The levels of free chlorine in either pool or spa water are now much easier to monitor and control with the advent of automatic dosing. That’s good to know, isn’t it?

And if you want to know more, feel free to get in touch