Daniel Berninger's - Quandaries -

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Fish Did Not Discover Water

Marshal McLuhan noted "We don't know who discovered water, but we'er certain it wasn't a fish."

Our inability to see beyond our own assumptions seems ubiquitous. We would rather ignore reality that let go of a dearly held assumption. Assumptions tend to serve as the foundation for many things, so the house of cards that represents our reality can come tumbling down. Events in the world of telecom regulation remind me of this phenomena. Lots of stuff just does not make sense or accomplish intended goals, yet it gets protected vigorously by the status quo. I wrote an essay questioning why the voice quality of a local telephone call had not improved in 50 years. 8-track tapes get replaced by cassette tapes which get replaced by CD's in the world of consumer electronis, but for some reason simple intelligibity represents the end game for telephone sound quality. People responded that we don't need better voice quality. I noted that the so called Universal Service program advertised as helping make telephone calls more affordable has not done as well as market forces in making television, cell phones, or cars more affordable. Net income has increased 67% in the last 20 years, but telephone penetration rates have increased only 5% from 91% to 96%. It falls as low as 75% in some areas. Why not let competition reduce the cost of telephone service for everyone rather than moving dollars around. What if we had simply subsidized the cost of shared processing power on an IBM mainframe rather than allowing the PC to bring computing power to the masses? The Universal Service program deters innovation as the regulatorium repels investment.

Role of Trust in Propagation of Ideas on the Internet

Traditional meda remains far more powerful than the Internet with regard to propogation of ideas. This does not represent a significant surprise given the Internet just arrived on the scene. One does wonder if there exist obstacles to the impact of the Interent beyond the obvious economic and technical ones. It seems like the issue of *trust* deserves some attention. Trust plays an essential role in communication as a filter through which a senders message must pass. Traditional media has many more figures people trust than the Interent. Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, et al lead the pack of personalities that citizen's trust or at least feel they know how to interpret. People like Howard Stern also enjoy the trust of many and would get included under the same idea. The power of these individual to communicate ideas derives from the trust of the audience as well as the wattage of the platform. Power in the financial and political sense also has a significant impact either through some presumption of trust or awareness that power means the ability to make things happen. President Bush's proclamations have a significantly greater impact than john q citizen. The Internet will not change the fact that communication gets filtered through trust. It seems likely to change the model of who gets chosen to hold the peoples trust. Expense and scarcity produce very high barriers to entry into the traditional media trusted community. The Internet destroys this control over the distribution of information. The Internet enables something much closer to a meritocracy of ideas. It will nonetheless take a while before the Internet gets populated with enough trusted individuals to challenge traditional media's influence with the masses.