Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Long View - Entropy, Class War, and the Death of Newspapers

So here’s the premise:

The Internet runs on a non-renewable resource called electricity.

Assume for the moment that it’s a valid premise. (We’ll assume the opposite in a second.) If you put all the people who use electricity to access the Internet in one room, what will happen? What always happens in a closed system: entropy.

Hexagram 23. Things fall apart. That is the nature of things. And man-made things fall apart even quicker. That is the nature of planned obsolescence. Given the pressures of capitalism (not so much a premise as a given), three separate things are going to happen in The Room. Sophisticated Internet-based toys will get replaced by even more sophisticated toys. Access to Internet sites will become pay-based. And the power to access these sites will start disappearing.

So the people in The Room will have to shell out more and more money for site subscription increases, upgraded access devices, and the power to run them. Those who can’t afford these costs will have to leave The Room. (See Class War below.) Eventually, as prices increase, The Room will contain an increasingly smaller number of people who are willing to pay whatever it costs to access the Internet. And these people, given the nature of Capitalism, will eventually become the target audience for all Internet content. (See Requiescat in Pace, below.)

In other words, eventually the Internet will become the electronic equivalent of a high-priced specialty store which caters to the interests of the few people who can afford it, reflecting their values and their vision of the world like a mirror. Specifically, a mirror in Versailles circa 1789.

And in the end, The Room will eventually run out of power. (See Fossil Fuels, Coal, and Oil, Dwindling Supplies Of.) Which means that everything housed on the Internet will vanish like the smallpox virus, and the medieval Dark Ages will look like a fireworks display by comparison.

(Oh yeah—penmanship will disappear too, as people rely more and more on either keyboards or voice-recognition typing software.)

Hexagram 24. But let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say everything keeps expanding and never deteriorates, everything keeps growing and never dies, everything keeps going on the way it has for the millions and millions of minutes the Internet has been in existence.

We’ve still got people in The Room, and people outside The Room. And as the gap widens between what the insiders have and the outsiders don’t, I can think of a few possible scenarios, none of which are pretty.

Class War. For one thing, the outsiders will resent the insiders. This resentment will increase as the Internet becomes the single-source subscriber-based delivery system for news and entertainment. I can see the have-nots on the outside of The Room flaunting their lack of information access as a badge of honor; I can see them turning to religion, or any political movement that promises them the right to access what they’re missing. (Insert pictures of Russian serfs circa 1917 here.)

Will there be violence? Quite possibly. Why? Because of the other thing besides news that the Internet is keeping from the outsiders: entertainment. Given that entertainment distracts the masses from social injustice, class inequities, and personal hardship, with the removal of entertainment as a distraction from the have-not life, they’ll have nothing to make them forget their anger, and all hell will break loose.

Unless of course somebody in the Have side is smart enough to keep TV (a) affordable and (b) separate from the Internet. In that case, everyone will be happy forever with what they do and do not have.

Until they aren’t.

But if that does happen, only the ones in The Room will know about it, because they’ll be the only ones with access to multiple news sources outside of, say TV news.

Requiescat in Paper.

Enjoy free access to online newspapers while you can; the day is fast approaching when they will be pay-only subscription sites, and there will be little or no paper copies as an alternative reading option. Why? Because the paper copies are a money pit. Why? Because everyone’s getting online access for free. I can't think of more perfect example of self-defeating corporate circular logic -- it's like your ass biting you in the ass.

Yes, there will be some organizations which will publish hard copies of the news, but their resemblance to current newspapers will be about the same as the relationship between Reader’s Digest condensed versions and an actual novel. For instance, I can definitely see the print version of the New York Times becoming a compendium of archive-worthy online pieces; what I can’t see is a print version of the Times that actually records, evaluates and delivers current events or opinion. All that will be done electronically.

So we will end up with the same people in The Room, paying for access to a content-delivery system which will become increasingly targeted to them as an audience. This means that news as well as entertainment will eventually become whatever makes the people in The Room feel knowledgeable and entertained. These people will become the info version of the Nouveau Riche. Call them the Infeau Riche.

Now even if there isn’t a class war between the Infeau Riche and the Infeau Poors -- even if the Poors have dial-up pay-as-you-go access to the Internet, say –- their presence will only be acknowledged, and their comments only allowed, if they say what the Riche want to hear.

Meaning censorship? You bet. And it’ll be incredibly easy. Currently, the Internet is a delivery system for critiques and comments aimed at the mainstream media. But when the mainstream media is coming into your laptop via the same delivery system as its critics, well, that’s like putting King Kong and a New York cop in the same room. Guess who walks out picking his teeth with a pine tree.

Point being, when the Internet becomes the primary delivery system for everything, there will be nothing it transmits which its content providers or paying audience do not want to receive.

ANSWER: E-talitarianism.

QUESTION: What do you call internet-based totalitarianism?

Next? The cranky old fart shaking his buggy whip as the nasty old Stanley Steamer leaves him in the dust looks at why Twitter is to e-mail as FaceBook is to MySpace, as this week's must-be-seen-there hot spot is to that-place-is-so-last-week, as cocaine is to marijuana.

(Hint: in all four cases? The Cool People think it makes them look cooler.)

1 comment:

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