Monday, November 15, 2010

Too Much Trust

In the two weeks since the midterm elections, I have found myself thinking about the nationwide swing towards conservative, anti-government, pro-business candidates, and how this may affect me as a designer. As a principle, these politicians talk about less oversight and taxes coupled with more corporate freedoms, ideas which in this day and age can affect the emerging/independent designer much more adversely than the average person. One of the worst ways designers such as I can be affected is if large commercial interests can persuade Congress to further loosen regulations and entirely abandon any concept of net neutrality.

In a country where corporate sponsorship is not only encouraged but widely regarded as the best and easiest road to success and recognition, net neutrality, which Columbia professor Tim Wu defines as “…a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally" is vital to the on-line First Amendment rights of Americans. What already feels like a good old boys club of corporations like Apple, Clear Channel, Comcast, Corning, Inc., AT&T, and Motorola will become infinitely tighter if internet neutrality is abandoned. Search results would be allowed to be ranked in a tiered system by price paid for proximity to the number one search result (with top dollar going to be listed as the number one result in a given search engine) instead of by relevancy to the search.

Such rankings by payment would spell disaster for those unwilling or able to pay for a good search engine ranking. As an independent and emerging designer, my freedoms would be severely limited. I would be unable to ensure fair on-line exposure to my artistic postings, or get to see the full array of content my peers have posted unless they have paid for ranking. Furthermore, and more dangerously, allowing a tiered internet search system would give technology companies far too much power to censor ideas unfavorable to them by burying those ideas at the very end of a search listing, or refusing to list those ideas in search results whatsoever.

As with so many other facets of life, large corporate interests are trying to further consolidate their enormous power, this time at the expense of all internet users. There is too much trust in laissez-faire concepts, and there is too much trust collusion going on between so-called industry competitors. It is imperative that government takes a strong hand, even adopt a Theodore Roosevelt approach when dealing with technology firms, busting up cozy corporate relationships to ensure the freedoms of the average American are not severely encroached upon by the richest and their allies. If you disagree with me, name one instance where completely unrestricted capitalism (because that is really what this whole debate boils down to, government’s role in business) has worked out entirely successfully.

Wu, Tim “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination” Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law, Vol. 2, p. 141, 2003

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