Bad Idea: Tax Energy To Reduce Blogging

    August 26, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

File this one under U for "Uh, Wow, Okay." Before you do that, here’s a summary of a Washington Post editorial entitled "If Everyone’s Talking, Who Will Listen?":

There’s so much information on the Internet nobody can agree on anything anymore. Worse, there’s no way to disseminate a proper cultural hegemony to bring about important changes via unified front. We should therefore tax energy (which runs computers) to the point it is no longer so cheap to blog, thereby reducing information overload and leaving the heralded official duty of information dissemination to the proper traditional media outlets, where truth always prevails and enough people see the truth that something is done about it.

Yes, that is one Web writer’s summation; I stand by it as accurate and share with our readers without approval from any traditional media channel, but with the "cheap" energy allowing me to do so. I’m quite okay with possible reader skepticism about my interpretation, so read Dusty Horwitt’s op-ed and decide for yourself. After that, leave a comment and contribute to even more information overload.

Mike Masnick at the TechDirt blog joins me in wondering when the Washington Post began publishing satire. It is quite possible this "Dusty Horwitt" is a plant by the Colbert Report, which of course is a way of making fun of itself as a source of news and commentary in the 21st Century. This could be the best stunt they’ve pulled since imposing triple-elephant growth wikiality on Wikipedia.

Like Mike, I fear it’s not a stunt. WaPo doesn’t pull stunts, right?

Horwitt, a lawyer for a nonprofit Washington-based environmental group, says higher energy taxes would stop off-shoring of jobs. He doesn’t mention that if it’s too expensive to blog (because if you can’t afford to run a computer, you can’t afford to blog), it might also be too expensive to run a home business, heat your home, run your refrigerator, or even to buy groceries. Think of all that energy it takes to keep food from spoiling at the local grocery store, where prices already shot up because of the other energy tax imposed by oil companies. If we return to newspaper and over-the-airwaves-only information flow, maybe we should return to salting our pork, too.

But at least the energy theory is testable. Horwitt argues the media fragmentation occurring because of the Internet discourages social change because it takes mass communication of particular messages with mass audiences to bring about social change. "Without broad media coverage," he writes, "the civil rights movement might never have succeeded." That’s a nice, impossible to test, alarmist hypothesis based on the straw man argument nothing gets "broad media coverage" these days.

They teach that in law school?  

Aside from being a media argument you might hear in China rather than America—home of the free press, home of dissent, home of the free marketplace of ideas and not home of silence the bloggers—Horwitt has demonstrated a profound misunderstanding of how modern media works.

The modern version of the so-called traditional media has failed us to the extent bloggers have to take the press into their own hands. This was the media that gave us Paris Hilton when we were hungry about news from Iraq, about government wiretapping, about corporate-government corruption. Much of that was distraction from whose corporate media hands were dropping coins into whose government coffers. This is the media that had to be called out by bloggers for falsified documents aired on CBS in 2004. This is the media at the mercy of AstroTurf organizations. This is the media that ignored much of what we wanted to hear about until we raised a stink online.

No one, except for those with vested interest in controlling information, is willing to go back to a set of elites (prodded by deep-pocketed publishers) deciding what the idiot masses need to hear about. And definitely no one is willing to let the government try to shut us up via taxes.

Remember the Boston Tea Party?

The truth is that traditional media, collectively still with a tremendous voice and vast audiences, actually drives what appears online. People see it on TV, read it in the paper (the online version of the paper), and spread it around, discuss it, criticize it just like they always did, except now they do it more and faster and in a way that is permanently recorded for history. We use, Wikipedia, Google, Twitter, email, text messages and myriad other Web tools to help us organize information, decide what’s important, and raise our collective voices about. It’s up to the individual and technologists to help filter that information down to comprehensibility.

"We" don’t have a problem sifting through all that information to find our truths, Horwitt, you do. 

In America—my dream of America, the hegemony I bought into long ago—every voice counts and collectively some form of the truth will emerge from it in the reverse of what Horwitt has espoused. It’s not top-down communication anymore, where the people are told what to think about and how to think about it; it’s top-down-bottoms-up-every-which-way-but-loose that has powerbrokers dousing their Armani slacks.

Power to the people, ever since Tom Jefferson and his buddies wrote it down and made it law, has never been popular with the elite; it’s also never been closer to fulfillment.