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.  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.
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.
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.
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