Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rant: We Live in Amazing Times

I hate the way some people chide developments in technology, as if progress were something to be feared. Multi-player video games? “What about exercise?,” they scold. Email? “Makes things too impersonal,” they say. Facebook? “What about the quality of the relationships?” they shrill. iPhone? “But we’ll be glued to our phones at the expense of real life,” they argue. Each and every one of the naysayers reminds me of Victorian England–a place where people yearned for fixed rules and regulations designed to ostracize newcomers and entrepreneurs.

Every time a new communications invention occurs, we should be ecstatic. Google is apparently working on a phone that will automatically translate languages. Do you realize that within five to ten years, we might be able to call anyone on the planet and have a conversation?

Also, the internet is a godsend for people who are better at writing and reading than speaking and small talk. What’s wrong with a medium that gives an advantage to people who excel at spelling, writing, and grammar? What's wrong with being able to instantly broadcast your ideas to the world for free? Yes, there are some downsides to giving everyone a microphone, but why not focus on the gems we wouldn't have discovered if Big Media (GE, Disney, News Corp, Viacom, CBS) were still in total control of mainstream media?

Overall, the pace of innovation over the last fifteen years has been amazing. We can watch movies and television shows online (Hulu); sell anything directly to millions of people (eBay); talk to people worldwide for free (thank you, Skype); text message anyone (VZ, T); and keep in touch with friends and acquaintances with minimal effort. I realize we're in a recession, and the unemployment picture isn't pretty. But if you ask me, what we've accomplished over the last fifteen years is much more useful to the average person than going to the moon. Yet, almost all Americans loved the idea of space travel and were rightly proud of the Apollo missions. It is sad today to see most Americans not as openly appreciative of our more recent inventions. As far as I'm concerned, what we've done over the last fifteen years is just as good, if not better, than going to the moon. I'm just sayin'.


Alex said...

Interesting thought experiment for you, compare this post with your praise of the rationale behind milton friedman's book-form rants against basic social safety nets.

"Freedom to advocate unpopular causes does not require that such advocacy be without cost. On the contrary, no society could be stable if advocacy of radical change were costless, much less subsidized...Indeed, it is important to preserve freedom only to people who are willing to practice self-denial, for otherwise freedom degenerates into license and irresponsibility... Freedom is a tenable objective only for responsible individuals."

this quote of yours from his book can be paraphrased as .. "but.. but.. the rules don't stay stable if everyone can advocate radical change...(therefore only the rich should be allowed?)"

The fact of the matter, and in which friedman demonstrates absolutely zero compassion, is that pareto efficiency means that for some to win others must lose, and, in a just society, those who win bear responsibility for assuring those who lost honorably still have the bare basics, after all, the ones who won have, by the dynamics of pareto efficiency, 'taken' from those who lose.

Pareto efficiency is part of the definition of economics in most texts (in the first page of every 101 text you will see a reference to a econ as a science relating to the distribution of limited resources). Pareto efficiency and multi-part game theory are two aspects of economics which are not stressed enough in curricula of even the best schools in my opinion. The exclusion of these concepts from conclusions of many talking heads and political party platforms annoys me to no end, given how important they are to the discipline.

This said, you have demonstrated a far greater grasp of economics than most people in my graduating class, and my undergrad program shared faculty with a worldwide top 10 econ/business graduate program.

Anonymous said...

If you really want to see what technology can do, you should look into and help campaign for repeal of "anti-circumvention" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

This one tiny clause basically says "if it's engineered with the deliberate purpose of breaking compatibility, you're not allowed to figure out a way to make it compatible again".

That is fundamentally antithetical to the trends of technological convergence. It placed our then-explding tech industry in the de-facto regulatory control of the most technophobic sector of our economy, and for that reason I believe it to be a hidden but major factor in the sudden cool-off of venture capital at the end of the .com bubble (it passed in 1998, it was scheduled to take effect in 2000).