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March 24, 2006

Technology is neutral (more on "parasitic" technologies)

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Stan Leibowitz has replied to his critics on his "parasitic technologies" brief paper for PFF. (PDF only)

Stan doesn't really concede much to his critics, although he does graciously concede a point or two to me.

But Stan (and Jim DeLong) seem determined to draw this distinction between "parasitic" and constructive (?) technologies.

I'm frankly baffled by this. Perhaps I'm too thick to see the point, but I see neither the distinction nor the driver behind these distinctions.

There are no bad technologies. None.

But then, again, there are no good technologies, either.

Technology is neutral. It's neither good nor bad.

It's PEOPLE and their ACTIONS that are either good or bad, and thus it's people's applications of technology that are either good or bad, moral or immoral, constructive or destructive, harmful or productive. Not the technology--the APPLICATION of the technology.

Nukes are either good or bad depending on how they're used. Gene-splicing, file-sharing, time-shifting or place-shifting, Star Trek transporters, it doesn't matter. It's how humans apply them that is either good or bad, not the technology itself.

Grokster was correctly found to be a wrong application of a perfectly-fine technology. But there are no doubt really good and useful applications of file-sharing technology. But even if no productive applications of file-sharing technology ever appear, all that means is that the technology had no compelling use, not that it was "bad" or "parasitic."

When a new technology appears on the scene, it's like uncovering a law of nature. It just IS. We've discovered something that can be done, just like we've discovered something that always was. I'm NOT saying it's not inventive or innovative--of course it is. But the ability to do something--to share files, or to splice genes, or to make little nanomachines--is simply uncovering yet another bit of reality. It's neither good nor bad--it's just reality. It just IS.

The moral/ethical/legal/economic question is, what do you do with it?

Let's say TIVO causes such serious damage to the advertising-based model of broadcasting as to destroy it. Who is to say that is bad?

Consumers will not be cut off from an abundance of creative content just because the advertiser model becomes riskier, or even goes away. They will only be cut off from an abundance of creative content if intellectual property rights are eroded. So long as creators can own what they create and make a profit from their creations, they will find useful and innovative ways to reach the consumer.

And anyone who doubts the strength of the demand-side when it comes to broadcast television should just watch as the Commerce Committee spends billions of dollars on set-top D/A converter boxes so Grandma's TV doesn't go dead on D-Day (Digital Day).

Frankly, the advertising-based broadcasting model is a terribly inefficient means for advertisers to reach consumers. Hugely expensive, and only lends itself to targeting in the grossest of ways. It wouldn't surprise me at all if one of the benefits of coming technology was to eliminate it, and to give advertisers much more targeted, elegant ways to reach their desired consumers.

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