Clear-Cutting the Future: We’ll Hear More About This in 2005

It's really hard to decide between my two favorite holiday presents. The antique jigsaw puzzle, complete in its original box, of the characters from the old "Terry & the Pirates" cartoon strip delighted me; in part because it helps me appreciate how much popular culture has changed (and hasn't) since the early 1950s and in part due to vanity-I was named after the major character.

But I think my overall favorite is the tiny little, black (stealth) keychain device, which purports (and so far has proven it many times over) to let me turn off any remote-enabled television. I have a serious hate-hate relationship with televisions. My dislike of television has grown for years but tipped into activism after a blood pressure-induced hospital stay a year ago, during which I learned that there were no television-free patient rooms in the University of Michigan hospital.

After being driven to ER by ambulance, straight from my doctor's office from what was to have been an ordinary visit. It took a long time before I was moved to a real hospital room. My hopes of a quiet stay were hurt when I saw the television on the other side of my room flicker off as I entered. (At 1:30 am!) And they vanished when my roommate woke up at 6:30 am and as the first part of his daily routine turned his television back on.

Last week I promised to write about some IT news we might be seeing in 2005. One thing that relates to my little black stealth device in some ways is the "Free Culture" movement. Its proponents claim that proprietary corporate software and hardware restrictions, as well as a lot of related intellectual property law is resulting right now in a virtual "clear-cutting of the future, driven by a business monoculture in which the only worthwhile goal of any creativity is the accumulation of dollars.

But I promised to write about other things. Let's see. How about: Memory will get cheaper and computers will get faster. Or: Wireless will become even more ubiquitous. Clearly, those things will happen, and will get reported on, as will new and different kinds of malware-along with our efforts to thwart it. There are a couple of less obvious trends that we'll be hearing more and more about that I find particularly interesting.

  • The battle between PeopleSoft (Who?) and Oracle is over now, but we will all be watching carefully in 2005 to see how Oracle treats current PeopleSoft users. Will Oracle's bean counters insist on maximizing the dollars it can get by force-weaning users away through lack of support and new developments? Probably, but maybe not. One certain 2005 news story is about the (mostly) PeopleSoft staff gets decimated by layoffs as the companies consolidate.
  • Oh, and there will be lots of other stories about consolidation in the information technology world.
  • Offshore outsourcing will be a continuing story in the general news media and there will be more stories about it happening in higher education, too. The first of those appeared at the end of 2005 from places like the University of Michigan Hospital (Hmm, another U-M Hospital connection.) outsourcing most of its medical transcription. More recently we are learning about the life-saving benefits of offshore outsourcing the initial readings of MRI scans. It may well be that cheaper, quicker reading of scans by experienced people on other continents saves money and this can allow more scans to occur. But what happens to the "lives" of the locally-based medical technicians and medical transcription service providers? I guess they can always retrain.
  • The P2P battle will get larger as more bandwidth and higher speed brings the movie industry into the fight alongside the RIAA.
  • Cool gadgets will get smaller and more powerful and this could well be the year when Bluetooth and related technologies hit the consciousness of the wider consumer public.
  • Google and Mozilla will continue to bring us innovative new things. As I write this, Google has recently entered the digital property fray in a way that will bring it directly up against Bill Gates, with its agreements to digitize millions of books from university libraries over the next six years. And, Mozilla is about to release Mozilla Calendar, its calendaring program which, when linked to Mozilla Thunderbird (e-mail), is a direct attack on Microsoft Outlook.
  • Oh, yes, and we will-all year long-hear over and over more stories about Longhorn, the new Microsoft operating system which just might be available in 2006.

But I think that what will interest me the most in 2005 will be the ongoing efforts by older industries and bigger companies to slow down the advance of innovation using digital technologies. We've already seen some of the negative effects of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, during the passage of which Congress seemed to have forgotten the existence of such things as "fair use." Big industry is big industry, whether it's farming or entertainment. Big farming prefers monoculture over biodiversity; and big IT prefers controlled access to proprietary functionality rather than . . . what can we call it? . . . techdiversity?

At times it seems as though it's a black and white battle between economies of scale on one side versus systems thinking and diversity on the other. (And, yes, Acacia Industries fits right into the middle of all this.)

And it's going to get worse, with the pressure on to pass the Induce Act. In case you haven't read about it yet, that congressional legislation would penalize anyone who makes hardware or software that "induces" (makes it possible to) consumers to illegally copy songs, movies, and software. Don't misunderstand the threat the Induce Act is to innovation and creativity. It's the kind of legislation that would have made it impossible to develop and sell the earliest photocopy machines.

Or, as Desirina Boskovich, a creative writing student at Emory and a "Free Culture" movement spokesperson puts it:

"Our opponents are clear-cutting the future, and the negative results will not be lost forests replaced by wastelands, but creativity that never has a chance to come into being. How do you measure the loss of something which has yet to be? . . . [Still,] what we are battling very much resembles a loss of biodiversity . . . a world in which only those who sign up with big corporations are allowed to create is very much like an environment that consists only of squirrels, sparrows, starlings and suburban lawns."

"From the Campus to the Commons" by Michael Gaworecki on AlterNet: WireTap, December 20, 2004, www.alternet.org/wiretap/20798/.

Now, back to my stealth television killer. At the same time as it chills me that I might appear to be "on the side" of people who have radar detectors in their cars, I delight in knowing that if a television in a bar or restaurant, or an airline terminal or a hospital room, is now at my mercy. But I think I'm going to order several more of these little things, because I expect that one of the items we'll see in the news in 2005 is that the company which makes the TV B-Gone device is itself gone, because making it or owning such things will somehow be made illegal.

Then I guess I will download that new piece of software that will let me Treo do the same thing.

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