I am working on my presentation for this week’s Personal Democracy Forum, which is looking to be a great event.
My talk is entitled: “Powered by Us: Architecting Policy for a Connected World”, and I’m going to be talking about the policy implications of peer networks on the web. We can think of “the peer economy” or ”the indie web” or ”powered by us” platforms as a subset of the internet at large. It’s a sector that’s growing fast and running into all kinds of trouble along the way.
Part of what I will talk about is the historical phenomenon of incumbent industries (incorrectly) predicting doomsday as new technologies and business models emerge. One of the most famous examples here is when Jack Valenti, former head of the MPAA (movie industry lobby) declared in 1982 that the VCR would be the end of the movie industry. He said (seriously):
“I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”
Of course, this turned out not to be the case. Home videos instead turned into a major new revenue stream for the movie business. But that didn’t stop the the issue from going all the way to the Supreme Court, which declared video copying for personal use legal. This decision, known as “the betamax case” laid a critical foundation for user-empowering technologies that followed.
I’m looking for a few more examples like this: times when a new technology — in particular one that grants individuals new and awesome powers — was greeted with (ultimately) false claims of impending doom. Here’s one list of now-silly tech predictions (not necessarily doomsday-related), and a few years ago Mike Masnick at techdirt wrote up this great list of historical overreactions to copyright issues.
I’d like to find more like this, but beyond copyright as a subject area. If anyone’s out there: what are your favorites?