The Conservative Case for Net Neutrality

UPDATE: In support of the July 12th Battle For The Net, I am rerunning this post from 3 years ago to remind people what Net Neutrality is really all about. For more info on the protest, go here: https://www.battleforthenet.com/july12/

To write the FCC: https://dearfcc.org/

I am completely baffled at the conservatives here in America’s ability to get the Net Neutrality debate ass backwards.  Every statement from both conservative and libertarian sources gets it completely wrong.

Without Net Neutrality, government sanctioned monopolies will have the right to levy their own taxes on successful private businesses.

That is the TRUTH, that is why many Conservatives are supporting Net Neutrality.

I have posted this question to any politicians who are opposed to net neutrality: “So you are in favor of government sanctioned monopolies levying new taxes on successful businesses?”  I have yet to hear back from any of them.

The anti-net neutral argument made in practically every article I posted is that “Netflix takes up 33% of the internet bandwidth, so it is only fair that they pay ISPs to help support their traffic.”

Any good Conservative should see the fallacy of that argument, and every tech savvy person should also. So what if Netflix uses 33% of the bandwidth? They are providing a service people like and are willing to pay for as an added feature of their internet service.  Not only that, they are spending millions to make it easier for ISPs to handle their traffic by reducing the load on long distance lines, but that has not stopped ISPs demand for additional fees.

If ISPs levy additional fees on Netflix, then Netflix will just pass it on down to the consumer, and that is why it is a consumer issue.

Is that not the same argument raised by every anti-tax conservative against raising taxes on businesses?

And what about the 30 or so other streaming services that show up on my Apple TV? If Netflix is forced out by exorbitant fees, then that 33% bandwidth will just be divided up by other services, and then will ISPs go after them for fees too, even though they use significantly lower bandwidth?

What percentage of bandwidth is too much? At what level is charging them fair?

Then there is the future. That 33% is destined to fall even if Netflix continues to grow. By 2020 Netflix may only represent 10% of the bandwidth. Should ISPs continue to charge a premium? What about the hundred or so Netflix like services that haven’t even started up yet but will eventually? Can they compete if they have to pay fees to all the ISPs like Netflix? So much for competition in the market place.

Eventually the internet will grow so big that it will be able to easily support hundreds of Netflixes, and then the “Netflix is too big” argument will go out the window, and yet like all good taxes, the high bandwidth fees will continue to levied costing consumers and internet based corporations billions which could have been paid to salaried employees.

For the future of the internet, and I have been working in the internet field for 20 years so I know what I am talking about, there are ONLY two options:

1. Get rid of the government sanctioned monopolies and force ISPs to open their lines to competitors.
2. Get rid of their right to levy their own taxes on internet based companies, aka make them title II utilities like telephone and electric companies.

1. is not going to happen any time soon, but 2 could happen tomorrow if the FCC decides to.

What about fears of government regulation of the internet? That is a completely separate issue apart from Net Neutrality, it is just as likely to happen if ISPs become utilities or not. It is a completely separate battle, and yet the GOP backed by ISP money is using the confusion to claim they are the same battle, which is why there is so much misinformation on the right.

Why can’t we just leave ISP’s alone at their word that they won’t violate Net Neutrality? Because they already have. Twice. And they did it by purposely slowing down traffic. Net Neutrality will regulate these kinds of actions.  Without net neutrality guarantees, ISPs could slow or completely block internet sites they don’t like, or ask consumers to pay for access to their favorite sites.  This has not happened, but it is perfectly legal for them to do so.  This is why Net Neutrality is also important to free speech.

ISP’s say Title II would lower their incentive to improve the internet, AT&T says they will not expand gigabit services until the issue has been decided. Is this true? AT&T would not stop expanding if the gigabit service was selling well in Austin, but it seems most consumers are happy with the service they got. I’m guessing AT&T has already decided to slow down expansion for fiscal reasons, but decided to make a political issue out of it.

The truth is their political issue seems to have backfired.  It only points out how the lack of competition is harming the availability of really fast internet in the US. It is why US is in 27th place in internet speed.

The conservative position should be: We need competition so we don’t need to implement Net Neutrality rules.  But, the GOP politicians don’t seem to even mention that option. Until we get real competition, Net Neutrality is our best bet as consumers to insure free speech and consumer protection.

Five Things That Could Destroy the Internet

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Whatever Happened to the Internet Dream? Part 5

Part 1: Bored of the Internet  Part 2: Politics and Religion in the Internet Age  Part 3: Movies and Television since the Internet  Part 4: The Constant Changing Society

It was not that long ago that people did not think the internet mattered to the economy as a whole. Now it seems the internet IS the economy.  This has created a lot of interest in trying to control the internet from multiple different directions.  These attempts to control that which is at this stage uncontrollable now threaten the internet as a whole.

All of these threats come down to one thing: ignorance.  Ignorance of politicians, ignorance of judges, ignorance of corporations, and the ignorance of the users themselves.

Threat #1: The lack of Net Neutrality

The internet is the third most used utility in the US behind only electricity and water (occasionally 4th behind gas).  Former third place holders telephone and cable TV have been replaced by the internet.  This is inaccurate though, the truth is that the internet is not a utility, not yet anyway, and that is what the whole net neutrality debate is all about:  Should the internet be treated like the telephone, where you can call anyone and anyone can call you? Or, should it be treated like cable TV where you subscribe to bundled packages of websites that run faster and contain more features.

Anyone who knows what they are talking about will tell you telephone.  The entire reason the internet is growing the economy is because access to the internet is an even playing field.  The major internet service providers want to charge websites more money to get to their customers faster.  They want to charge for traffic going both ways.  If the internet service providers get away with it, only the major websites with deep pockets can survive in the long run. All the small start-ups with thousands of employees, would suffer and ultimately close.  There is a very entertaining video explaining all of this and this website has the latest information.

The ignorant in this case: Mostly conservative politicians and news sources who explain net neutrality completely backwards. If you want to save free speech on the internet you WANT net neutrality.  They seem to think that “Net Neutrality” means government regulation and control of the internet, it does not.  But now that you mention it…

Threat #2: Government Regulation and Control of the Internet

The Arab Spring demonstrated the power of the internet to help protesters organize.  We saw this again during the Occupy Wall Street protests and the Ukranian revolts which actually led to the overthrow of the government.  The internet as a communication tool organizes like minded people to take action against people, against corporations, and against government.  The more tyrannical governments are looking to stop that by regulating what information moves into its country.

Google has to run different versions of its search engines in China and other countries due to censorship laws. These laws vary from country to country, which also result in lower performance of the internet as a whole.  Google releases a regular report on take down requests from various government agencies, the requests are rising dramatically every year, up 68% from 2012 to 2013.

The other threat coming from Government is radical changes of policy. The SOPA act 0f 2012 was one of those.  Currently, users can post stuff to websites free of censorship.  However if they post copyrighted material, the copyright holder can notify the website, and the website is obligated to take it down.  What SOPA wanted to do is put the burden on the websites. If you posted a copyrighted video on You Tube, You Tube would have to identify it as copyrighted and take it down themselves.  It basically would have meant that any website that allows you to post stuff, which pretty much includes most of the most popular websites, would have to radically change their submission rules, or just close down completely.  Luckily that was stopped, but organizations of copyright holders are still pushing for similar laws around the world.  Newer threats include CISPA act of 2013 which in the name of stopping online cyber attacks, hurts online privacy concerns.

Pew Research also released a recent survey of internet experts and they consider government interference to be a big threat as well.

The ignorant in this case: Politicians and law enforcement agencies around the world of all political leanings.

Threat #3: API copyright issues

As threat #1 has to do with communications companies trying to seize control of the internet, threat #3 is about software companies trying to seize control.  This is all about a potentially horrible precedent setting case involving Oracle vs. Google.

API is Application Programming Interface, it is basically how software programs talk to each other.  If program A needs information from program B, it requests information X from B, which responds by sending Y back to A in a format it understands.  Throughout the history of computer programming, it does not matter how program B handles data X or result Y, it can use any number of methods it wants to.  Oracle’s Java does it one way, Google’s Android does it another.  As a result Google avoids copyrighted software licensing issues with Java.

In Oracle vs. Google, Oracle claims that it holds the copyright of X and Y and not just the method, Google argues (rightly in my opinion) that X and Y are like the title of a book (book titles are not copyrightable), and that because the book part is different, there is no problem.  Google won the initial case, but Oracle won on appeal.

Why is this so damning to the internet?  Because the internet runs on API’s, and API’s have been around for decades. Without API’s smart phones would be bricks.  Google is not the only one with this problem, Microsoft and Apple have their own implementations in place as well. Once the precedent is set, virtually all “open source” software would end.

The ignorant in this case: Judges only looking at previous cases and not the history of software design. Lawyers that could make millions off the thousands of lawsuits that could be filed.

Threat #4: Exponential Growth and Aging Infrastructure

This month, Wired published an article on the growing number of service outages simply caused by too much traffic that older routers simply cannot handle.  Better routers and router software can fix these issues, but replacing old routers and pushing software fixes takes time.

Also in this category would be the very slow progress in moving the internet to IPv6 protocol.

The ignorant in this case: Businesses not willing to invest money in updating.

Threat #5: The Increasingly sophisticated methods of crackers and scammers combined with an increasingly tech ignorant general public.

This weeks Celebrity Nude Scandal, aka “The Fappening“, highlights how sophisticated online pirates are becoming, and more importantly how much more dangerous new trends like “cloud computing” can be to privacy.

There is a lot of interest in finding the hacker responsible for the release of these pictures, but this has all the tell tale signs of a group of hackers with a new set of tools. Most interesting is this article from Wired.

On the web forum Anon-IB, one of the most popular anonymous image boards for posting stolen nude selfies, hackers openly discuss using a piece of software called EPPB or Elcomsoft Phone Password Breaker to download their victims’ data from iCloud backups. That software is sold by Moscow-based forensics firm Elcomsoft and intended for government agency customers. In combination with iCloud credentials obtained with iBrute, the password-cracking software for iCloud released on Github over the weekend, EPPB lets anyone impersonate a victim’s iPhone and download its full backup rather than the more limited data accessible on iCloud.com. And as of Tuesday, it was still being used to steal revealing photos and post them on Anon-IB’s forum.

“Use the script to hack her passwd…use eppb to download the backup,” wrote one anonymous user on Anon-IB explaining the process to a less-experienced hacker. “Post your wins here ;-)”

I do not know if this is the exact process used by hackers (plural seems most appropriate) in this case, but something similar: Someone found an exploit, allowing unauthorized access to iCloud accounts, posted it for others to find, and large numbers of hackers went to work seeing what icloud accounts they could hack. I have seen “group think” hacking in action, and the sheer volume of accounts attacked tells me this wasn’t the work of one lone hacker.

What is especially worrisome is that the Wired article seems to imply that the exploit used by hackers on Anon-IB (again the two may be unrelated) is there for law enforcement use. As long as law enforcement and spy agencies insist on legally requiring access to cloud computing for intelligence gathering, cloud computing is is going to be vulnerable to hackers!!

There are a number of large companies that have decided to put much of their data needs on “cloud computing”, quoting the money they save on IT expenses by going this route.  They are making themselves more vulnerable to hackers by doing so, just to save a few bucks.  Apple and Google have been pushing cloud services for a while now, Apple is even updating OS X and iOS with cloud computing in mind, often requiring the cloud to use certain services. The Celebrity hacks couldn’t come at a worse time for Apple.

But this is just one example of the increasing sophistication of today’s online hackers.  Let’s take a look at another recently published by PC World:

CryptoWall ransomware held over 600K computers hostage, encrypted 5 billion files

A file-encrypting ransomware program called CryptoWall infected over 600,000 computer systems in the past six months and held 5 billion files hostage, earning its creators more than $1 million, researchers found.

The Counter Threat Unit (CTU) at Dell SecureWorks performed an extensive analysis of CryptoWall that involved gathering data from its command-and-control (C&C) servers, tracking its variants and distribution methods and counting payments made by victims so far.

CryptoWall is “the largest and most destructive ransomware threat on the Internet” at the moment and will likely continue to grow, the CTU researchers said Wednesday in a blog post that details their findings.

For a couple of years now “ransomware” viruses worked at the fraud level pretending to be government agencies like FBI or IRS claiming to find evidence of wrong doing by the end user and demanding a $300 bribe (or “fine”) to make it all go away, often disabling users from using their computer to get rid of it. Many fixes nevertheless exist online to avoid paying the scammers.

CryptoWall has elevated “ransomware” to the kidnapping and extortion level, and if your files really are encrypted there may be no way to unencrypt them without paying for the extortion.

These viruses are spread mostly the old fashioned way through fraudulent emails saying you are owed money, and you need to “click here” to get access.  The sophisticated tech savvy would never click.

Scammers are going beyond fake emails and phishing these days.  Now they are calling people, usually older people, posing as technical support using fake caller IDs to look legitimate, telling them they need remote access to their computer to fix a problem they have found, which once given access is loaded with various malware and viruses for future ransomware scams.  A variant is to pose as government lawyers collecting fines as explained above.  This is of course all highly illegal and potential victims are reporting people with foreign accents, meaning it is foreign scammers taking advantage of call centers being based in India and other large English speaking countries to save money.  People are used to hearing foreign accents from support centers these days.

Even if you are smart enough to avoid fraudulent emails, and inbound calls asking for bank or computer access, there is scary unavoidable stuff like rogue cell towers that your phone automatically connects to when you are in range.

The tech savvy for the most part know how to avoid these problems, and keep their security updated, and know how to fix their own problems if they do crop up.  The problem is that there is an increasingly small percentage of internet users who are this careful, and viruses malware and trojan horses affect all internet users, even the uninfected.

Some viruses never reveal themselves, they reside in the background of unsuspecting computer users to form networks of parallel processing power, often used to brute force passwords, or create denial of service hacks.  Such actions slow down internet traffic, cause temporary outages and ruin everybody’s internet experience.

The other side of the coin is that scamming is profitable.  People do fall victim, people do pay, and scammers hide themselves behind international law to avoid prosecution.  That means there is only going to be more of it. Scams are not just using mass emails, they are buying ad space on legitimate web sites to make themselves look legitimate.  Unfortunately, there are no security firewalls to protect you from the ignorance of others.

The ignorant in this case: pretty much everybody.

UPDATE October 3 2014:

Apple is refusing to help law enforcement access phones anymore, they said that the security of their iCloud is now so secure they can’t even break in. This has made nude celebrity hackers very sad.

Is the Virtual World Dream Dying?

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One of the things I have on my website is a list of 3D Virtual Worlds that I try to maintain.  Although I don’t play them much anymore, I have a few reliable sources I go to keep me up to date.

It has been about two years since I added a new program, and that program was Cloud Party.  This week I removed it, as well as Free Realms, and MooveCloud Party got bought out by Yahoo!, and Yahoo! has decided not to keep it open.  Free Realms, a MMORPG designed for kids that also included virtual world elements like personal houses, is closing its doors too due to lack of growth.  I’m dropping Moove because no one seems to be using it anymore, and no one is supporting it. The web site hasn’t changed in 2 years.

A fair number of others are on their way out.  Information on Kaneva is sketchy, no twitter updates in months.  The virtual world side of Blue Mars seems to be already dead population wise, though the app side is alive and kicking. Playstation 3 Home is declining since the “Home”less Playstation 4 was released.

Some of the major ones are still doing well.  Second Life is still popular.   There.com still has an active community and still making a profit. IMVU is not advertising like they used to but still pulling in big numbers of users (just pulled up my client to check, 115,000 users online). My contacts inside Nuvera Online say its doing well, too. I am also still seeing continuing interest in Twinity.

In business, this is called a consolidation phase. The 3D Virtual World industry as a whole is declining, but the ones that are well established are growing as the less well established ones close their doors.

Why the decline?  Two reasons: 1.  Almost all 3D Virtual Worlds are designed for keyboard and mouse play on PCs. With the rise of tablets and phone computing, interest in Virtual Worlds is declining, as these worlds are not designed for those devices.  3D Virtual World Apps do exist, but they are not doing enough business to stop the decline.

2. The rise of Free MMORPGs, which I have talked about before.  MMORPGs have basically adopted every aspect of 3D Virtual World play except user created content.  Maybe that is why Second Life, There, IMVU, Nuvera, and Twinity are the survivors — they are the ones with user created content.  If that is not important to you,  if all you want to do is meet and play and chat with other people online, the MMORPG’s now cater to those interests.

I used to think that 3D Virtual Worlds would eventually lead to a 3D internet.  I still think a 3D internet is possible in the future, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.  I expect more closures in the short term.

Meanwhile, there is hope of new things around the corner.  High Fidelity is going into alpha mode.  A Yahoo! based virtual world could be coming using the Cloud Party tech they just acquired.  Also a wild card in this is VR hardware like Oculus Rift, which will no doubt renew interest in all things 3D.

Internet: Trapped In An Andrew Niccol Film

Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream (part 4)

This is the 4th in a series about the affect of Internet on society.  Part 1 was the new mass media, part 2 the new politics and religion, part 3 movies and TV.  Today’s topic: social instability brought on by technology.

Andrew Niccol is a screenwriter/director who often makes films with the theme of technological perfection undermining humanity.  His first was GATTACA, a film about a technology to create genetically perfect babies which inevitably leads to these perfect babies having a huge advantage over natural born children, creating haves and have nots at birth.  The second was The Truman Show, about a perfect society designed for one guy, who ultimately rejects his perfect life.  Since then there was S1m0ne a pygmalion story about the perfect artificial celebrity, Lord of War about the effect of guns on society (which does not quite fit the theme, but still good),  In Time about life where nobody ages as long as you have “time”, and The Host about aliens creating a perfect peaceful society which humans hate.  Not all of these movies are great, but they are all at least thought provoking.

(Another screenwriter who often follows similar themes is Charlie Booker, creator of the excellent anthology series Black Mirror.)

Today, between the internet and constant communication access using smart phones is fulfilling a growing number of our human needs, and yet systematically destroying our society a piece at a time.

I loved browsing in record stores and bookstores and video stores and software stores.  MP3s killed the record stores, kindle killed the bookstores, and Netflix killed the video stores.  Shopping now only consists of food and clothes.  Technology has eliminated the need for most shopping.  A major “technology” store near me that used to specialize in the latest CDs, DVDs, Games, and Books, now sells toys where the CDs, DVDs, Games, and Books used to be.

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I remember every Sunday morning having arguments over who got to read the comics first. We had great arguments at the video store over what to rent, and arguments over the TV remote, and who was hogging the only phone.  All of this is disappearing fast.  Remember arguing over trivial matters for hours with friends? Now someone will google the answer and the arguments over in a few seconds.  We can’t even argue anymore.

Friendly arguing has been replaced by a new noise pollution as illustrated in this video: I Forgot My Phone.

 

I am currently fascinated by the rate of change I see happening today. Industries come and go at ever shorter intervals.  Video rental stores are pretty much dead.  Bookstores are in the dying category, so is Television.  Who would have ever dreamed that TV networks and cable and Satellite TV would become a declining industryVirtually all the traditional careers are in decline: Doctors, nurses, teachers, police/fire, lawyers, scientists, clerical, manufacturing, etc.  Even the sex and porn industries are being destroyed in the new Internet economy.

The best jobs are in non traditional careers, which themselves will be in decline by the time people graduate trade school to learn them.  It was just a few years ago when web site design was a growth industry.

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The lack of stability in any field is bringing about a Post-employment economy.  People are working for nothing as interns to improve their chances at a paid job (which statistically turns out to be bogus).  Major publications are publishing articles and only paying the writers with the honor of being published in a major publication.  Artists in all fields are running into the same issues when trying to get paid for their work.

The Internet is a technology designed to make us smarter and communicate better. It was supposed to make our lives easier, but by forcing competition in every endeavor it is driving the “supply” side of the economy way too fast.  Whatever your skill set, a quick internet search will link potential employers and clients to dozens of others willing to do it faster, or cheaper, or better.

We are all living in a Truman Show world, and there does not seem to be an exit door to a more livable one.

Next time: One of the fastest growing industries is about to hit a brick wall:  The App Stores (for basically the same reasons as described above).  In the mean time, find out “Why The Scariest Sci-Fi Robot Uprising Has Already Begun.” (again same reason as above)

Internet Part 5: Tech Apocalypses

Internet: The Decline of Movies and TV

Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? (Part 3)

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In part 1, I complained how the internet has ruined culture, and in part 2 how it is ruining politics and religion.  Today I delve into an area that is a little more personal: movies and TV.

1999: The Year That Didn’t Change Movies

1999, is a year I consider the year movies peaked in my lifetime. The list of great movies that came out in 1999 is amazingly long. There was Fight Club, The Matrix, Office Space, Three Kings, Being John Malkovitch, Mumford, Galaxy Quest, Go, Run Lola Run, The Sixth Sense, Eyes Wide Shut, Dogma, The Iron Giant, Toy Story 2, South Park, edTV, Notting Hill, American Pie, Boys Don’t Cry, Cruel Intentions, The Limey, Forces of Nature, Mansfield Park, October Sky, Pushing Tin, Stir of Echoes, Entrapment, eXistenZ, The Thirteenth Floor, Magnolia, and The Blair Witch Project. Not all are great films, but they were at least creative and inventive. I haven’t even mentioned the biggest movie Star Wars The Phantom Menace, or the film that swept all the awards that year American Beauty. Entertainment Weekly even touted 1999 as the year that changed movies forever!

You can stop waiting for the future of movies. It’s already here. Someday, 1999 will be etched on a microchip as the first real year of 21st-century filmmaking. The year when all the old, boring rules about cinema started to crumble. The year when a new generation of directors—weaned on cyberspace and Cops, Pac-Man and Public Enemy—snatched the flickering torch from the aging rebels of the 1970s. The year when the whole concept of ”making a movie” got turned on its head.

Except that it didn’t. Instead it was apparently the year that studios dropped the ball and let the creative people take over, and today the studios have a new stranglehold on film making. Most movies I see today are good in concept, formulaic in delivery. The other thing that happened in 1999 is that the Internet started taking over entertainment and it forced a change on how Hollywood does everything.

It was around 1999 when movies went from making a small fraction of their over all box office on the opening weekend to eventually making more than half. It is easy to see that the internet is to blame.  It used to be a few people would go to a movie on opening weekend and then tell their friends, family, and co-workers about the movie they saw.  If the movie was good, often the second weekend would be better than the first weekend.

The internet changed the rules. Now a few people go see a movie on friday night, then post online their opinion so all their friends, family and co-workers see it by the next morning.  This helps Saturday’s box office take, instead of next weekend.  Buzz spreads shockingly fast now, and the marketing opportunities disappear after that first weekend.

This changed the priority of movie studios completely.  Throughout the decade of the 2000’s, the priority of movie studios in making movies is not whether a movie will be good or not, but whether a movie is marketable enough to generate enough buzz to get the big opening weekend.  Notice my list of films from 1999, the list has one sequel and one prequel, and one based off a TV show (there were others in 1999, but they are not worth mentioning).  The rest are fresh new titles, some of which spawned sequels of their own.  Today it is all sequels, remakes, ties to popular TV, comics, and books, all of which are much easier to market.  There are still good movies every year, but there are fewer in number than there used to be.

And TV?

Meanwhile, I believe TV has actually gotten better since the internet got big, at least from a certain perspective.  While priorities changed in the movies from “good” to “bankable”, TV has gone from “bankable” to “buzz worthy”.

The goal of TV in the internet age is to make TV that will stir a lot of discussion online.  Lots of discussion means lots of people tuning in each week.  The result are three trends in TV: 1. Every drama is a soap opera. Regardless of the type of show it is, there is always dramatic interplay between the regulars.  Think back to the ’80s: TV dramas that weren’t night time soaps, was there a lot of sleeping around?, or dramatic tension between the characters?  If there was, it was over by the end of the episode.  Today most shows have large ensemble casts, and while there are weekly plots, there are scenes between characters that make up larger arcs, over the season or even series.  2. Every sitcom pushes the limits of outrageous behavior.  The only successful comedies are “water cooler” worthy shows as the old standard, today it is blog worthy or tweetable.  Who had the most hits on Get Glue?  3. The ultimate in buzz worthy shows are of course the elimination style reality shows, which is why there are so damn many of them.  Advertisers love them, because people actually watch them live, which means networks love them.  If reality shows generated syndication deals and DVD sales, there would be nothing on TV but reality shows. Luckily, syndication and DVD sales matter, which is why they still make dramas and sitcoms.

Personally, I don’t watch reality TV, and very few sitcoms (outrageousness is not my kind of humor), but dramas suck me in all the time. I usually have between 8 to 10 going every year, and there are lots of good ones.  The TV Drama has been experiencing a “Golden Age” thanks to the internet.

I can probably pin point the first show that lived off the internet: Babylon 5.  Sure there were genre shows (X-Files) and space dramas (Star Trek) that preceded it, but the risky genius J. Michael Strazinsky actually had a planned out 5 year cycle for the show ahead of time. This made the show buzz worthy as the audience saw plots develop over many episodes, incidences in season 1 pay off in season 4.  No one in the history of TV had ever plotted out a whole series in advance before.  These days it happens all the time.  But the other history making advance that “JMS” did was to regularly get online and discuss the show with fans.  Fans appreciated it, and it increased the shows loyalty even more.

While Babylon 5 was never a huge success, it had a loyal fan base, and TV producers took notice.  Almost every “genre” show today, from Once Upon A Time to Game of Thrones follows a similar formula of long story arcs, and developing loyalty online.  Fringe probably lasted two more seasons than it should have thanks to a loyal online fan base.  Even though it means a lot more work, TV writers are loving the myriad of story telling opportunities they have.  It shows in better written TV over all.

The danger is that if TV imitates what was success too much, it gets formulaic. I believe that is already true of reality shows and sitcoms, which is why I don’t bother. It is also true of certain TV tropes like the “procedural” or the “legal drama” or the “medical drama”.  In these types of shows, I generally watch for the character interplay of the cast.  The episode plot or mystery rarely matters.  Luckily every season there are shows that do not follow these tropes, and those are the ones I usually enjoy the most.

If TV is getting better, how come the ratings keep falling?

How bad are TV ratings today?  Lets go back to 1999 again. The top scripted TV show that year was ER with an average 18.6 rating.  In 2012, the top scripted show was Modern Family with an average 5.8 rating.  Had Modern Family been released in 1999 with the same rating, it would have been ranked 82nd, and probably cancelled.

The internet provides a smorgasbord of viewing options to choose from. Families don’t sit down in front of the big screen and watch the big 4 networks anymore. Today the average viewer has 300 channels to choose from, plus Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

And that is if they watch TV. Video games, or just web surfing in general eats a big chunk of the TV audience away as well. How long will the erosion of ratings go on before TV networks no longer consider scripted shows to be cost effective?  The death of TV will be when TV stops producing dramas and comedies all together.  I doubt that will happen very soon, but the trend is pointing that way.

TV will never disappear, just as radio still continues to exist.  However radio, especially the AM dial, exists as nothing but talk shows: news talk, sports talk, political talk, religious talk, paid advertisers talking about their products — every station, all the time.  I see all of this on TV these days, especially during the daytime hours.  Scripted TV is becoming the exception to the rule.  TV is turning into AM radio with video.

Next Part 4: Internet and Society

Internet: The Death of Politics and Religion

Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? (Part 2)

Speaker

Something I almost never do in this blog is talk about politics and religion, and I am only going to talk about it in the most generic terms here.  My thesis for today is that the wealth of information available through the internet is having unexpected consequences on what should be the most stalwart and unchangeable institutions of society.  The consequences on politics is very different than the consequences on religion, but ultimately just as potentially fatal.

The Death of Religion

Full disclosure, I’m and Atheist, and so seeing religious institutions in decline does not bother me much. But, I have not always been. I grew up in a religious community, and why I no longer share the beliefs of the community, I still care about the people as they are pretty much lifelong friends.  I don’t stand in the way of their practices, I congratulate them on their achievements in church, I just avoid all religious discussions with them, and they with me.  So I am not really anti-religion, because I understand religious institutions can fulfill social needs of its members.

That said, religious institutions are seeing declining conversions, and participation across the board these days.  The problem is the Internet.  Religions have thousands of years of practice in controlling what information its members have access to:  Embarrassing histories are expunged, scientific evidence is denied, and secret rites are kept secret.  With the internet that has all gone away.  Potential converts to your church can find all the dirt on your church in just a few clicks.  Worse already converted members can find this info too, and they can also find support groups for ex-members ready to help them unconvert.

The Internet presents a world view where science is as full of awe and wonder as inspiring as any sermon, a world view where people are moral because it is in their nature to be and do not need threats of punishments and rewards to make them so.  This world view is not really a threat to the true believers faith, but it seriously weakens the interest of the potential and wavering members.  It is no surprise that “non-affiliated” is the fastest growing religious category in the Western world, especially among the young.

While the internet is a major threat to “religion”, it is not necessarily a threat to “belief”.  In fact the internet is a source for a diversity of beliefs.  People will be worshiping deities for millenia to come no doubt, but do they need organized religion to do it?  I’m guessing, “no”.

The Death of Politics

While religious institutions struggle with their inability to keep secrets from the public, to the politicians its a long tradition of dealing with bad press via spin, denials, and  rhetoric. Therefore, the Internet’s threat to politics is very different from its threat to religion.  While religions shrivel up and blow away, political parties becomes stronger, more radicalized, and more stubborn.

What the Internet has done to politics is expose the backdoor deals, the necessary compromises needed to get things done.  It has soured the public’s view of politicians to the point where much of the public seems OK with things not getting done, until they find out how it affects their lives.

What we have today is what one author accurately describes as “Attention Deficit Democracy“, which has basically numbed us to outrage except when it comes to our special interest causes.  There in lies the thing that will kill politics: the cow towing to special interests, even when it is ultimately bad for the general public to pursue those interests.  Politics is being increasingly dominated by what I call “Meme Politics”.

Meme politics is good for fundraising:  1. Propose a radical, unconstitutional bill that threatens the lives and welfare of a minority group. 2. The internet gets a gander at your outrageous proposal, posts it all over the web like a meme.  3. Radical political extremists who feel threatened by said minority group send you lots of campaign contributions.

Meme politics is almost normal these days.  Politicians feel comfortable proposing stupid and outrageous legislation because it brings immediate fundraising results, and eventually the general public will forget about it come election time.

Why does America spend so much money on a shoddy health care system?  Special Interest groups. Why does America spend so much on military? Special interest groups. Why does America’s tax system punish the poor and help the rich? Special Interest Groups.  Why the war on drugs? Why are guns not better regulated? Why the overboard security at airports? Why do we still have pennys?  All can be faulted by the involvement of special interests with deep pockets.  Meanwhile, nothing is being done about global warming and peak oil, because there are concerted efforts by special interests to deny their existence.  Poverty is a major problem in this country, but unfortunately there are no special interest groups to advocate for them.

The internet has brought us the politics of the outrageous, where actually getting things done is counter productive.  From the politicians standpoint it is better to not do anything, and keep collecting money from those that want something done.  Because if you actually do what they want, they will stop contributing and stop voting.

Society won’t last long without good governance. Deadlocked politics is not good for anybody.  There are good substitutes to religion, there are no good substitutes to government.  Can politics reinvent itself for the information age and become a functioning democracy again?  Or are we destined to become a dictatorship?

Thanks to the internet, politics is becoming deadlocked, and religion is becoming irrelevant.  I’ll let others decide if this is a good or bad thing.

Next Part 3: The Internet affect on tv and movies.

Bored Of The Internet

Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? (Part 1)

boredariane

As a long time internet addict, who has spent 20 years online, and 15 years working in the internet industry, I hate to say it, but it is true: I am bored of the Internet.

The thing is, I am quite certain I am not alone in this sentiment. Over the course of the 20 years I have been online, I have seen the Internet transform itself multiple times, so I am not saying it is over for the Internet, I am saying that in its current evolutionary state, the internet is boring as hell.

Not too very long ago, I used to visit up to a dozen portal sites like Digg, and Fark, and Reddit, and a bunch of others on my links page. It used to be that all of these sites would have a slew of cool and interesting things to see and read about, all of them different.  Slowly over time, something changed.  The same content started showing up on all of these filter sites more and more frequently.  It soon got to the point that there really isn’t any need to go to all of these sites, so I don’t. Digg is completely useless since it was sold, Fark is only worth reading for the occasional funny headlines readers come up with, Reddit is a haven for flame wars.  All you really need these days is one website to go to for the cool crap.

For me, I hate to admit it, but it has become Facebook.  I just “like” my favorite sources of info, and links get sent to me.  Too convenient.  Sure not everything worth seeing ends up in my feed, and there is still junk to sort through, but it is as good a filter as I can find, so I use it.

The War for Eyeballs

Still I am not getting as much cool stuff as I used to get when I surfed for it. The pre-meme cool stuff I used to find is still out there, it is just getting harder to find in the noise of pop culture gossip,  sponsored links, and pointless memes that make up the most visited websites today. Why? Because the pop culture gossip and the pointless memes sells the sponsored links.

The joke of making money online has been to follow this business model:
Make something cool
Give it away for free to get traffic
????
Profit!
The funny thing is, Google, Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkdin, and a few others have actually followed this model to make billions.  After years of giving away their services for free, often at huge expenses, they managed to find ways to make money once they became famous.

The most important thing is to get that internet traffic, and it is much easier to get that traffic by catering to the masses rather than catering to special interests.  This is why the Internet, which once upon a time was a haven for special interest groups, has become a haven for mass media instead.

I know what you are thinking, it is still a haven for special interest groups.  I know because I am in a couple, but some how a large percentage of the discussion in these special interest groups end up being about mass media topics.

Think about it! Advertisers are finding it just as easy to get their message out online as on traditional media. They lose some control over the message, but still the message gets out. Money talks.

The Paradox of Choice

My thesis is this: The Internet, once dreamed as the ultimate rebellion against mass media and the control of knowledge, has somehow become mass media’s biggest promoter.  I believe it is a consequence of the Paradox of Choice, which I first mentioned in my first Happiness post.

Pretty much any info we want can be found online.  It gives us lots and lots of choices.  Psychological studies conclude that the availability of choices do not make us happier, instead they lead to feeling of loneliness and depression.  It is basic human nature to ignore the choices and find what we are comfortable with, or find a distraction from loneliness and depression we feel from all the choices we make online.

That explains all the cats.  Kinda sad to have this vast source of info, that I hardly use. I should take classes on ItunesU, or download and read classic literature from the Google Library, or read up on random topics on Wikipedia or TED. Somehow cat videos keep getting in the way.

20 years ago, Bruce Springsteen sung about “57 Channels and Nothing On”. Then it became 570 satellite channels and nothing to tivo, then 5700 DVDs and nothing to rent. Today its 57,000,000 videos and nothing to stream.

This is the first in a series on this paradox. Next up, how the Internet is destroying politics and religion.