Saving the Net–Doc Searls & Walter Cronkite

Y2K and the Media

If you’re reading this, you’re old enough to remember the media coverage of the Y2K “catastrophe.” The Y2K problem was a computer issue based in a design flaw in then-current programming, which caused certain date-related processes to operate incorrectly for dates after January 1, 2000.

The total cost of the work done in preparation for Y2K was $US 300 billion. [10] There are two ways to view the events of 2000 from the perspective of its aftermath:

The vast majority of problems had been fixed correctly, and the money was well spent. The lack of problems at the date change reflect the completeness of the project.
There were no critical problems to begin with, and correcting the few minor mistakes as they occured would have been the most efficient way to solve the problem. This view was bolstered by the lack of Y2K-related problems in the Third World, which in general had not devoted the programming resources to remediation that the industrialized West had marshalled.
Wikipedia, Year 2000 problem, Was the expenditure worth the effort?

The media made sure we knew about this problem–every day, any place we were.
The media moved our businesses to check our systems and upgrade.
The media also made the Y2K problem larger by over-reporting on actions of fanatics.

I see no evil intent in this. I do, however, see an incredibly unfortunate result of the Y2K media coverage, and the coverage of events like it, on where we are today.

When it comes to the media, I don’t know who or what to believe.

Where’s Walter Cronkite when you need him?

The Smoke Screen

Now the media is dancing around on the subject of blogs and bloggers. “We like you. Stay in your place. We respect citizen journalists. We’ need to be in control. Let us help you. You’ll be out of the way soon enough.” The message is incredibly unclear.

At first I thought media folks were talking down to me. Now, the more I read, the more I realize how much this sounds like Y2K again.

Something is happening, but no one is saying exactly what it is. The story is replete with opinion and conjecture intertwined with the facts. Examples aren’t representative. Words are filled with subtext and connotations. Reporters and bloggers spend as much time discussing each other as they do what’s happening.

I think that all of the talk in the media about blogging is just a smoke screen.

Doc Searls’ Three Scenarios

Brian Clark pointed me to Doc Searls article Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes. It’s not new. Doc Searls wrote it last November. Every blogger should read it to be able to speak about the future of the Internet with fluency. Doc Searls outlines three scenarios in compelling detail–any one of which is plausible.

Scenario 1: The information highway becomes the information toll road. The folks who own the pipes that carry the data do what they do best–find a way to charge for what they own. Those folks would be the new telco giants, the cable and entertainment giants, and business and tech media. Ironically the possible saviors in this scenario are also giants AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo among others.

What that would mean is that you and I change from users into consumers overnight. Ideas that are exchanged freely would cost to be shared. Creativity would belong to those who could pay for it. Stockholders would make money, and the thought that nobody owns the Internet would be pushed aside. When corporate takes something built by the little guy, the culture changes completely.

Don’t blame BusinessWeek for not asking the important questions or for missing the Carriers vs. Net story. Biz pubs love to cover vendor sports. And there’s certainly a big story here.

Great distraction, vendor sports. While we’re busy watching phone and cable giants fight over a closed battlefield that ought to be open, we miss Net-hostile moves by other parties that result in other lost freedoms.
Doc Searls

Scenario 2: The cities throw their weight around, take the moral high ground, and bypass the carriers. OR Google rides in on a white horse and saves us. Whether it’s the cities or GoogleNet, it’s possible that a free Internet could occur. Municipal wi-fi connects that are free, open wireless and unregulated is what the hope is. Is that a dream? The second other possibility is the separation of free access and paid networks–sounds a bit like cable and free TV used to be. . . .

The problem is that once regulations about code are written, they can be rewritten.

The alternate version of this scenario is what Om Malik described last August– GoogleNet–free wi-fi access for everyone provided by Google. This wouldn’t be bypass, but a different paid business model, one based on advertising. Google is fighting for the Internet to maintain their right to strengthen and extend their business model, AND OUR RIGHTS. That last part is by default, but it doesn’t hurt to have a giant on our side.

Of course, the carriers are plainly anti-market and have been for the duration. Such is the nature of corporate species that have thrived exclusively in a highly controlled regulatory environment.

Regulatory habitats are by nature anti-market as well, regardless of the pro-market leanings of their top officials. This is why regulatory reform itself is inherently nutty.
–Doc Searls

Scenario 3: We fight the good fight with deeds AND WORDS–we change the words we use to describe the Internet. The words used in the past–the tranport metaphor–Doc Searls points out, have led people to misinterpret and undervalue the Internet. The Internet is more than content moving from me to you. It’s a marketplace of ideas. The fact that we do not actually stand in the same space in time does not make it less true that a meeting of minds does occur and that thoughts and ideas are exchanged. Doc Searls says it eloquently.

Most significantly, the Net is a marketplace. In fact, the Net is the largest, most open, most free and most productive marketplace the world has ever known. The fact that it’s not physical doesn’t make it one bit less real. In fact, the virtuality of the Net is what makes it stretch to worldwide dimensions while remaining local to every desktop, every point-of-sale device, every ATM machine. It is in this world-wide marketplace that free people, free enterprise, free cultures and free societies are just beginning to flourish. It is here that democratic governance is finally connected, efficiently, to the governed.

It is on and not just through–prepositions are key here–the Net that governments will not only derive their just powers from the consent of the governed but benefit directly from citizen involvement as well.

As a place, the Net has always been independent of the carriage on which it relies, which is one reason it also encourages and rewards independence. The independence of the Net and its inhabitants is precisely what accounts for countless new businesses and improved old ones.
–Doc Searls

The Internet is not a bunch of connecting pipes. It’s a place where minds meet–where ideas are exchanged, productivity occurs, and wealth is created.

So What Do We Do?

Sticking with Doc seems to be a good thing. What he says–all 13 pages of it–makes sense. The smoke screen of blogging is covering up another debate altogether. We “citizen journalists” need to be aware of what else folks might be thinking. Doc Searls offers three key points that I think might be useful to keep in mind when the conversation starts again.

  • The Internet is stupid. It doesn’t track, trace, or trail us the way the carrier databases do. It doesn’t have ISP waiting or ISP 69, like the phone company. It just knows how to move data from point A to point B. Stupidity is simple and sturdy. Stupidity is good design. We don’t need a smarter Internet.
  • Adding value will lower the value of the Internet. As you make it smarter, you will be making it more complicated, more specialized, and slower. Keep it stupid–simple.
  • The Internet’s value is that it is free for innovation. Because it is stupid, innovation can happen at any end point on the net along any edge. Want to build a new kind of search engine? Go for it.

The carriers are fighting to control of the Internet as a transport system. That claim and proposed control is at odds with the interactive world and the publishing venue that has produced so many small businesses and creative enterprises. We need to change the words we use to describe the Internet because

Words change the way that we think.
The way that we think changes what we do

I think that I might have found the person I can believe.
Doc Searls is my Walter Cronkite.

I know the first things I’m going to do. I’m going to start paying attention to the real issue.

–ME “Liz” Strauss

Related articles
Who’s a Citizen Journalist
Don’t Be Neutral on Net Neutrality


  1. says

    I guess … it’s all a matter of perspective .. For instance, under your “Smoke Screen” section .. Something is happening, but no is saying exactly what it is. The story is replete with opinion and conjecture intertwined the facts. Examples aren’t representative. Words are filled with subtext and connotations. Reporters and bloggers spend as much time discussing each other as they do what’s happening.

    That’s quite contrary to what ~you people~ (which I say “you people” as a generalization for those out there who think the above sentence describes the Main Stream Media – I say it actually describes the opposite)

    I didn’t see the Y2K perspective that way either. Did you know that in the Accounting Industry, we were placing notes in the financial statements between ~~ 1998 and 2001 that said this..


    The Year 2000 Issue arises because many computerized systems use two digits, rather than four, to identify a year. Date-sensitive systems may recognize the year 2000 as 1900 or some other date, resulting in errors when information using year 2000 date is processed. In addition, similar problems may arise in some systems which use certain dates in 1999 to represent something other than a date. The effects of the Year 2000 Issue may be experienced before, on, or after January 1, 2000, and, if not addressed, the impact on operations and financial reporting may range from minor errors to significant systems failure which could affect an entity’s ability to conduct normal business operations. It is not possible to be certain that all aspects of the Year 2000 Issue affecting the company, including those related to the efforts of customers, suppliers, or other third parties, will be fully resolved.

    So, it was more than the media flogging the idea of meltdown on the Y2K issue. It’s a world of uncertainty … when crashing airplanes and crashing stock markets took more of a crunch in people’s daily lives than crashing computers and ATM machines and credit card interest calculations.

    As for where the Internet should be going, well .. I hope everybody pays for access because those that take the risk to build the cable and the hardware and the wi-fi code etc etc need to be compensated. Other than that – I am one of the very minority (it would seem) who believes that everything on the internet should be free.

    OMG if someone doesn’t cross link somebody else, or somebody uses somebody elses graphic (just as an example – it could be any content) … That’s the crime I.M.H.O. of people thinking they are too good for the rest of humanity in cyberspace, that people don’t have a right to take a graphic. Instead of providing a cheaper version of the graphic, or even adding watermark on the graphic and then offering the ‘good’ graphic for sale .. is what commerce will be about.

    I hate to say it – but in conclusion, this time .. I would have to disagree with the statement Words change the way that we think. The way that we think changes what we do.

    Words won’t change the way we become online .. it will be the pornographic and spammers and other scum of the earth who has already began to change the world in its organization of the cybermedia … by taking innovation and offering the free 15 second (or whatever it is these days) teaser shots.

    But then, what do I know? I had to read this long post of yours about 5 times because of my lack of attention span. I could be wrong 😀

  2. says

    Everybody: HART!
    Hi HART,
    Good Morning!
    Thank you for so much of your thinking.

    Let me start by saying, this is where when even I say the comments are a conversation we’re wrong–it’s more like lettter writing. Conversations never exchange quite so many ideas at one time. . . . but this is going to be as much fun, so here i go.

    About the smoke screen . . . if I understand what you’re saying, you think that bloggers are the ones talking off topic. I think EVERYBODY is. I’m not sure there’s intent here, at least not on the average Joe’s part. I would expect the carriers to want to keep the citizen journalist not thinking too much about what they might do. But I wouldn’t expect that the telcos and the media giants are worried about people organizing some effort to stops them.

    It will happen in the U.S. no question–if and when it happens–and the folks here are just to darned worried about how to keep us all inidivually in possession of our inalienable rights as fragmented, segmented, diverse groups to ever organize about something that on the service doesn’t seem to be about people. Sad. Sad that we think it’s about us. Sad that we don’t know it’s about people. Can’t see the forest for the trees as they say.

    On the Y2K issue,I both sides of the media contribution. The did a great job of making sure the problem was addressed by people who could easily have ignored it. That was a service to all of us.

    Unfortunately with such a story, you can only tell the true and important story once and then repeat it with new details until the readers get it and quit reading. That’s when sales start declining. What then??? Out came the stories of the fall-out shelter; the guys who made pencils with cyanide pills; the endless pieces on people stocking up on water and gas masks and so on. That which could have been one survey story of how people were reacting became a daily report on how the next one was preparing for doom.

    I stand by my use of the work over-reporting. The media helped solve the problem. They also added to it by confusing the issue with stories that weren’t balanced with analysis of how likely the need for gas masks would be.

    The age of uncertainty doesn’t need a media that uses that lead my college-educated, world-traveling friends to ask me how I feel about the fact tha every school my son attended was filled with kids who had guns in their lockers. A stereotype that is patently untrue and that they could only have gotten from the media.

    Words do change the way we think, HART, because they change the way we frame an idea. And the way we frame an idea changes how we react to it. Now, with the way you put it. I have to agree words won’t have the impact that pornography will, I’ll take your point there, but I’ll also take the point the pornography has had as much to do with innovation as the space program and war.

    Sorry to make my post so long. It was a pain to write it. It was the only way this feeble mind could get to what I was really thinking. . . to lay it out and pick it apart.

    Sorry too this took such a long time, I had to go offline. A computer glitch was making my laptop wonky.


  3. says

    Great summary Liz. Doc wrote a rather unweildy article that you condensed very nicely.

    Rececca Lieb’s article in Clickz that I also sent you seems to be more hopeful that the worst-case scenario won’t happen (there was another in ReveNews). So far, Congress has largely proven to be smart about keeping “hands off” the Interent (e-commerce taxation has been one amazing area of abstincence).

    We’ll see, as long as we’re watching closely and not distracted by the shiny things the MSM likes to dangle in front of us.

  4. says

    Hi Brian,
    Yeah, Doc Searls article got me lost in the words a couple of times . . . but I got it together–after I lost the post once in the middle. grrrr. :)

    I sure hope we don’t act American and try to claim hold of the Internet. I think Congress folks who might be thinking of doing that could be feeling the conflict between business and their constituents.

    Good point. Now that I’m paying attention. It’s good to know what to listen for.

  5. says

    Hey Liz,

    Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any real way to stop the carriers from charging extra for services they already provide (and we already pay for).

    If your remember the days before cable TV, we got “free stations” and all we had to do was suffer through commercials.

    Now, we pay for cable, and still have to suffer with the commercials. If you want a “premium service” you have to pay even more, and still get commercials.

    My point is, they will get their way, no matter how eloquent we are in our protests. I wish I could be more positive in my accessment, but I really think since it’s their ball, we play by their rules, or we can’t play.

    Just my 2 cents,

  6. says

    Joe, that’s why we have competition. And if there’s no legitimate competition, that’s why we have the Sherman Act. That’s why ATT was broken up in the first place.

  7. says

    Hi Liz .. :) What you now need … is GaMerZ’s wp-print script (I’ve linked my PetLvr website above to show you how it works) .. this way one can just print the longest articles to read offline and then write the “letter reply” off-line without wonky computer glitches. Mind you .. now I have to find a good print plug-in just for the “letter reply” comments!

  8. says

    Hey Brian,

    That is true, however, it didn’t stop the cable companies. If one gets away with charging more (just like the airlines) they will all jump on the bandwagon.


  9. says

    It’ss never been cheaper in the history of the world to travel great distances. Airline prices used to be throug the roof decades ago.

    Cable companies do enjoy a bit of municipal-granted monopoly, so that’s why many opt for satellite, which has actually kept prices down.

    The threat to the Internet is of a completely different character, and the good thing is, almost all the rest of industry (outside of telcos, cable cos and the MSM) benefits from a free and open Internet.

    Those are powerful people, but my money’s on the rest of us.

  10. says

    HI Joe, I think you’re right. There’s no way to get around paying what we’re already paying for it. It would be nice if prices stayed where they are through competition, but the regulatory gorups coming in seems to be a signal that the price will go UP, UP, UP as our friend Dr. Seuss might say about this.

    Your two cents will go to then, just as mine will. :)

  11. says

    My money is on the the guys with the money . . . I’m not sure whether that might not be Google et al. or not. People will find a way to make money on the Internet that goes beyond charging for access whether the Telcos and friends get to raise prices and fence it off. The possibilities of making it work are too intriguing to the entrepreneur for it not to happen.

  12. says

    Liz, that’s always a safe bet. :) That’s why, despite how much money the bad guys have, there’s way more out there on the other side. Well beyond Google and Microsoft and Amazon and Yahoo.

    But those are good places to start!

  13. says

    I’ve had such a bad year and a half. Safe bets are the only ones I’m proposing. :)

    I have some faith, too, that this will work out to an economically feasible solution. Hopefully one in which you and i can still eke out a living. 😛


  14. says

    I’m so on this one Liz. Unfortunately there are lots of ears out there that are too busy, too clueless, too wrapped up in their own mini-galaxy to listen.

    I’m doing one of those deep thoughts meet brainstorms things in an effort to come up with a concept that will appeal to some of the unaware masses of humanity that this could affect.

    What hits me is that if the tech-savy are semi clued in but laissez faire about it, think about the rest of the population of the planet.

    I can guarantee you that art will be made – and the topic talked about. Whether on not anyone is listening is the question. Cross your fingers for me.

  15. says

    Thanks Susan,
    Every idea helps. We’ve got some going on the side too. I’ll keep you in mind for those as well. ART is powerful communication.

    Brian’s piece is very powerful. Let me know if you don’t have the link.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *