February 05, 2004

Putting an End to the Freak Show

Peggy Noonan's most recent Wall Street Journal column laments the return of the pre 9/11 freak show. Seriousness is gone, we're obsessed by trivialities again, she worries, and it's all downhill again.

I'm certainly not encouraged by the entire affair but I think Noonan is missing a few things. The major cultural transmission entities that make up mass media are all gasping for air. They're losing customers, there are technological alternatives building to break their distributional monopolies, and these two factors combined say something very healthy about the american people, if not the american elite.

The RIAA and the entire music distribution mafia is breaking down. iTunes with its music store is just one example of the revolution to come. As music is freed from its physical media and internet distribution becomes the norm, the arbiters of taste and culture that have currently dominated will no longer be able to distort the market with lowest common denominator music. Movies will follow the same path of narrowcasting and segmentation. There will be low brow culture, but it will not dominate.

The proof that it will not dominate is the draining away of consumers. I do not purchase as much music or see as many movies as I used to. I spent a year without TV at the beginning of my marriage in order to get closer to my wife (who I had not known all that long before we got married). When we finally got a TV we were both shocked at how much more degraded the entire spectrum of programming was from what we remembered a year prior. It was just stupid, idiotic, and tinged with just enough evil to make much of it creepy.

But it's not just me. The statistics kept by the networks and the RIAA both show that their market is shrinking. This leaves an opening for new entrants to provide what people want. In the past, high barriers to entry would prevent the market from shifting rapidly but today technology is rapidly lowering market barriers. The US Army is going to be driving the adoption of IPv6 starting a bit later this decade and IPv6 with its Quality of Service (QoS) packets enables unregulated, low cost net broadcasting.

We're on the verge of a new era in cultural expression. If we work hard to prepare for it, it may just end up being a positive experience.

Posted by TMLutas at February 5, 2004 11:54 AM