Thursday, November 17, 2005

There's a reason David used a Sling

It is hard for me to write a post about how I disagree with Doc Searls' Article, because I think the article is so well written and covers so many important topics and ideas. So I want to start this off by saying that it is a fantastic article. But I would not write a post just to say "me too" either. So the rest of this post is about how I agree 100% with his description of the problem, but disagree with his prescription for the future.

Let me summarize for anyone who does not have the time (or patience) to read the entire article. Doc breaks it down into three sections.

Scenario I: The Carriers Win - Doc describes how the phone carriers (SBC, Verizon, etc) are fighting with the Cable companies over who gets to own the Internet. Both want the government to pass regulations to limit competition so that they can charge consumers more. It includes great examples of how these companies play dirty.

Scenario II: The Public Workaround - Doc explores the possibility that another company, perhaps Google, could challenge both types of incumbants with a wireless solution that replaces the pipes that they are fighting to control. He also discusses how these laws that are supposed to be pro-market are really anti-market.

Scenario III: Fight with Words and Not Just Deeds - In the final section Doc discusses how to reframe the debate by promoting the metaphor that the Internet is a place rather than a transport system. He concludes with seven paragraphs that all begin with either "We need" or "We should", stressing the importance of fighting the big companies from taking over the Internet. My favorite two paragraphs of this section are the following:

"We need to remind policy makers that the Net's biggest success stories--Amazon, Google, eBay and Yahoo--are the stories of Bezos, Page, Brin, Omidyar, Yang and Filo."

"We need to make clear that the Net is the best public place ever created for private enterprise, and that the success of the Net owes infinitely more to personal initiative than to the mesh of pipes in the ground beneath it."

I agree with the premise behind these two strongly, that the people made the internet, not the technology or the wires. (In fact I was thinking of this from a more anecdotal position yesterday; I must have subconsciously anticipated reading this article today.) However, my perception of what comes next is almost the opposite of what Doc suggests.

"These are ideas, of course. I present them forcefully because I believe we--the technical community--are being called to fight for a world we made and continue to make. And one which is under grave threat."

It's not just under grave threat, it's doomed. It is absolutely inevitable, in my opinion, that the system of yesterday will get devoured by the big companies. But while Doc suggests we should fight against this process, I say don't waste the effort. Instead let's focus on the next generation, the next invention that big companies won't understand for a few years and therefore won't be able to spoil. Let them have the Internet, because just as Doc highlighted, the real value is in the PEOPLE. They can have the product, but they cannot have the people who made it. We're going to go build something new and better and if the big companies want to stay where they are, fighting over who gets to squeeze the last drop of revenue out of yesterday's accomplishment, so be it. That's what David did to Goliath; he didn't fight brute strength with brute strength, he calculated a precision attack against Goliath's weakness.

Doc quotes "World of Ends", by David Weinberger and himself, in a blockquote section titled "The Internet is Stupid". He brings up a brilliant point: "Adding value to the Internet Lowers its Value.". If the carriers are determined to lower the value of the Internet by "improving it", then they are going to push more people towards the next generation.

One of Doc's concerns is the rising tide of Digital Rights Management (DRM) hardware. Hollywood is fighting hard to get copy protection built into television tuners. This would control what and how you record or copy broadcast television. There is also a hardware DRM system going into High Definition Radio players. Doc's suggestion is to "contact your Congresspeople. Tell them to keep the Net open and free and to vote against any legislation meant to protect any industry from "threats" they see coming from a new world they refuse to understand.", but why waste the energy. If you want to effect real change you cannot go through the seemingly direct, but ultimately toothless, mechanism of writing to Congress. You've got to harness the power of all those lobbyist dollars by sending a signal to the companies that pay them (with your dollars, mind you). Can you imagine if the electronics companies complied with the new law, put broadcast protection in a new line of televisions, and nobody bought them... I know, it sounds crazy, but just imagine if everybody stopped buying televisions, opting instead for monitors (a television without the tuner) and watching a steady stream of video podcasts (if you need some non-MPAA entertainment, I highly recommend Red vs. Blue). Now I realize that it is unrealistic to expect every single person to participate, but let's start with everyone who reads Docs' blog. I humbly request that instead of spending time writing letters to Congress, that Doc make an extra podcast so that we have less reason to bother with the RIAA and MPAA. They don't own sound or video, they only own the content they've bought up. The more good content we put out there that does not conform to their rules, the more we undermine their position.

Not that they need help! Look at the current Sony snafu for evidence that consumers are not going to put up with whatever the studios do. Currently the population in general neither understands DRM nor knows what to do to avoid it. This particular instance with Sony will probably raise the level of consciousness because it is easy to describe: people bought the CD's with the rootkit included and their computers were infected with a virus that Sony included on the CDs. David Berlind writing about his DRM woes in Between the Lines speaks to a different crowd and his call to stop buying DRM music is along the right lines in my opinion. Not to beat a dead horse, but the message that no company can fail to hear is the message of consumer dollars.

Finally, reading through the comments in response to Docs' article, one from Jay struck me, "I'm tired of paying top-dollar for less than satisfactory services". My response... DON'T! You determine what you buy. If you are really tired of it, then make a change. My biggest problem with the post is that the language denies any responsibility for the purchasing decisions. Since I can assume that he is not talking about basic human necessities (people struggling to survive don't spend their time posting on blog comments, they spend it surviving), then he is making a choice to purchase these items, but refuses to own up to the responsibility. He continues, "As another commenter pointed out their dislike that everything in the US seems to have a price tag, and usually it's a premium price. I'm also tired of it as well". Everything has a price tag, capitalism simply puts it right in front of you. No matter what the economic system, there is a cost associated with everything. We take the sum total of the world's ability to produce goods, and it gets spread out among the people in the world. And regardless of the system, someone is placing a value on your time and exchanging it for equal value of goods. As far as the premium price goes, supply and demand are not some social experiment, they are names for forces that work in the system. Even when they are manipulated by governments or companies, supply and demand are still intrinsic forces. If you really believe that the price is too high, then don't pay it. Again, take responsibility for the purchasing decisions that YOU make.

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