Final Assignment

Near the beginning of the course, you asked us what sacrifices we would make for technology. You told a story about a city that put electrical lines through people’s yards. The electricity was used to power the city and further innovate technology in the city. Unfortunately, one girl was diagnosed with cancer and died. The father then filed a lawsuit against the power companies for putting power lines through their yard. It was believed, but not proven, that being exposed to the power lines is what gave the girl cancer. You asked us if having electricity was worth the death of this girl. I didn’t respond in class about this question, it seemed a bit too morbid for me to decide an answer immediately, but the question certainly stayed at the back of my mind throughout the the rest of the course.

We make a lot more sacrifice for technology than I am usually made aware of day by day. Not just our generation, but our children’s generation, the generation after them, and so forth. Much of our technology causes pollution and other environmental hazards. Unfortunately, our dependence on technology is so high that we have to make a sacrifice on our environment instead of a sacrifice on our technology. We need cars, we need to be able to transport goods throughout our states and to other countries. If we don’t keep up with the world in technology, then we begin to slip away into a third world country. We lose market power in the world economy.

What’s worse is that our industries are not focusing on solving the environment issue, but just move the problem around to something else and hide the new problem. Take the car industry for example. The car industry is a major supplier of air pollution because of ICE cars (Internal Combustion Engine). So, having cars that have no emissions (basically by being electric) is considered an “eco-friendly” car. However, electric cars do require some emissions (by having coal burned for their electricity) and have extremely hazardous batteries. Currently we lose 40,000 metric tons of lead (from our car batteries) to our landfills each year; electric cars would only increase these numbers. Having lead in our landfills can be horribly toxic to our land and water supply. So then what is an eco-friendly car? Basically it comes down to what you want to harm. Do you want to pollute the air that you breathe? Or make the food and water you eat and drink toxic? No matter which direction you go, someone is going to get hurt. And it’s not just in terms of the environment, but can also affect our freedoms.

Eco-friendly car?

Tim Berners-Lee has connected the world together through possibly the most revolutionary technology this world has seen in decades, the internet. The internet has grown far beyond than what Tim had possibly ever imagined, and it has done the world a lot of good. It has redefined social networking, improved industry performance, provides a large amount of entertainment, and has saved many people money. Unfortunately, it isn’t policed very well and piracy has become an issue. Intellectual property is very important for media developers and producers and they are the ones making the sacrifice for this new technology.

Many media producers have gotten fed up with making the sacrifice and have been fighting back (more so than usual) lately. Universal Music blocked MegaUpload (who Universal Music branded as a piracy site) from being used by consumers last November 29th. MegaUpload was only blocked for a couple of days, but it still got people angry, including some pop-stars. These pop idols (including Snoop Dogg and Kanye West) created a song in support of MegaUpload to try and get more people aware of this corporate censorship. Apparently the song was taken off youtube by Universal Music due to a copyright claim, even though Universal Music did not own any copyright that was infringed by that song (The song is now back up on youtube though).

Some of the media publishers have created a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA for short). This bill will drastically limit the freedom of the web and will force us (the consumers) to inherit the sacrifice for the internet. SOPA will allow DNS blocking, a method commonly used in countries like China and Iran. That’s right, because China and Iran are such great examples for us to follow. DNS blocking will censor the internet by making moral and ethical choices for us. Anything that companies like Universal Music deems to be not right for us, will be removed from our grasp.

This is exactly what Tim Berners-Lee said was his worst fear was for the internet. In the video that you posted online for us to watch, he stated that he is horrified of a large company or government trying to obtain the internet or censor it to their liking. The internet is supposed to be a blank canvas, a tool. You can’t stop someone from trying to draw a nude figure and you really shouldn’t either.

It’s not just us (the consumers) that are getting hurt, but rather the media industry as a whole. If a site like youtube gets blocked, how are indie producers supposed to market their works? I’m listening to a song right now that would’ve never gotten green lighted by a major music label (The Glitch Mob). In fact, this whole music sub-genre probably wouldn’t even exist without sites like youtube to help market them. Sure, they have their album on iTunes, but I know I would’ve never found them if it wasn’t for youtube; Glitch Mob has never toured outside of the West Coast and yet sell internationally because of sites like Youtube. Youtube and Pandora are basically evolved forms of the radio and MTV who wouldn’t have previewed genre’s like “glitch”. Have you ever heard of the genre “glitch”?

Piracy is bad, don’t get me wrong, but I do not think that SOPA is the right answer; and neither does Valve. Gabe Newell, the CEO of Valve and owner of Steam, spoke at DICE recently addressing piracy. Gabe said “Pirates are under-served customers”. If the media industry wants to combat with pirates, they need to provide a better service than what pirates can; and whoever can figure out how to do this will make a lot of money. iTunes is an excellent example of this.

Before we had iTunes, LimeWire was the king of music distribution and was subject to a lot of piracy. This was because LimeWire was quick and easy to use, it had a method of convenience that CD’s just could not compete with. iTunes then offered a digital service that offered even more convenience than LimeWire (organized music library, faster downloads, you could buy individual songs instead of having to get the whole album, etc.) and now who is the king of music distribution? Using the internet as a foundation, iTunes has revolutionized and possibly saved the music industry.

So, going back to the question you asked at the beginning of the semester. Was the electricity worth the death of the girl? I will finally answer the question and simply say, yes. It’s unfortunate that the girl died, but the electricity could be used to power hospitals or someone’s respirator. It’s better to support the mass populace than it is to support a single individual. Just like with the cars, air pollution is far more wide-spread and less contained than landfill overflow; and with the media industry, it’s better for a few to be subjected to piracy than entire countries to lose their freedom of speech. Technology and innovation requires sacrifice, and someone will need to pay for it. But not everyone needs to pay for it, and we should focus on having the least amount of people getting negatively affected as possible.

Sources:
http://www.hybridcars.com/battery-toxicity.html
http://www.autoblog.com/2009/08/01/2010-nissan-leaf-electric-car-in-person-in-depth-and-u-s-b/
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090219/1124433835.shtml

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