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The Writers Strike And The Future Of The Net

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The Writers Guild of America strike has been an interesting debacle to watch, complete with a host of issues the public might not have thought of before. The inevitable convergence of the Internet and TV is one of them; the continued homogenization of American culture is another.

Fortunately, the revolution is being blogged about. What else would striking writers do? Writers write, right?

I especially enjoyed the detail Stephen Falk is providing:

Chet came by for a spell and joined us, and at one point we got in trouble with the cops for working the Walk button too hard, which is a pretty silly offense; no matter how much Michael Tabb wanted to go for the guy’s gun and tell him to get back in his car and drive away, Michael complied and laid off the button. (Hey, that last sentence fragment could have been a stage direction from an episode of Lost! They’re rubbing off on me.)

If this were fiction, you’d commend him for some excellent metaphors: "working the Walk button"; the apt use of "laid off."

Anyway, back to the topics in the lede, where I’m supposed to be (WARNING: The rest of this will be very stream-of-consciousness). It’s hard not to sympathize – I’m a writer myself, existing on a plane where the majority of writers exist, providing the content for a (hopefully fair) slice of the pie.

But the pie is converging to make a much bigger pie, and this band of writers is quite aware of that. Our own David Utter already pointed out Viacom’s hypocrisy, suing YouTube for an astronomical billion dollars while saying there’s no money to be made on the Internet. It’s either one or the other, right?

And it’s definitely the other. NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, they all know that, or they wouldn’t bother establishing presences on the Web. Hulu, anyone? It’s been coming for a while now, and Internet sales are becoming meaningful.

But soon (I don’t know, five or ten years down the line), TV and Internet will be one. AT&T’s U-Verse is the first step on the early road to this. Verizon’s fiber-to-the-premises connections is the next. Soon, just as everyone finishing complaining about how slow their DSL and FiOS are compared to the blistering speeds and available in Hong Kong and Japan and Norway, the floodgates will be opened up and no one will have to worry about bandwidth or the prioritization of data packets.

Those things will join the Model T, the Victrola, and the pliers we used to turn the dial on the TV. So don’t let the Verizons and the Comcasts of the world act like they’re in a real pickle when it comes to capacity.

Truth be told, those arguments are as BS as the arguments the networks are using to screw their writers out of fair compensation, because there is greed at the center of them.

And how does the homogenization of American culture fit in with this overarching chorus of greed? Easy, the telecommunications and cable industries want to do the same thing they’ve done with television and mobile phone service to the Internet. It’s all about standardization, predictability, and profitability.

How do you do that? Make it all the same. Make it scalable. Make it a commodity. Remember when there used to be something good on A&E and Bravo? Stuff you couldn’t find on other channels? Now what’s there? The same homogenized crap the other channels are selling, with a side of dumbing-down for everybody.

So where we are with the Internet right now is exactly chaotic enough that the big players want to settle it down to its most predictable and profitable. Right now there are millions of voices in all different forms of media, reachable by search engine.

That’s because we have a neutral network, where everybody is treated the same. Internet service providers are aware there’s less profitability in chaos. Take all that content, squeeze into nice digestible chunks via channels or portals, and charge for every step along the way.

Charge to connect. Charge to visit. Charge to deliver content. Charge for premium packages on both sides of the pipe. Charge, charge, charge, charge, charge. And then redirect so that everybody’s less fragmented, until everybody’s watching the same thing again, just like the good old days.

Fewer writers to pay, and many, many more ways to get people to pay you.

Net Neutrality, therefore, becomes more than a complex concept only understood and desired by a few geeks that know what’s going on. It affects everybody, especially everybody that’s quite tired of 300 channels of the same crap. 

The Writers Strike And The Future Of The Net
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