Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Cellphones, executions, and the falling cost of information

Posted by metaphorical on 5 January 2007

My favorite financial analyst, Francis McInerney of North River Ventures, took the occasion of the Saddam Hussein execution, to remind his readers of one his iron-clad rules: once the cost of information falls far enough, users seize control of the means of information production.

As he put it, “the legacy press was replaced this weekend by a cell phone in the hands of one person…. The cell phone user videoed the unpleasantness and distributed it on the Internet. Legacy media—a distribution channel for packaged news products—were disintermediated as quickly and miserably as Saddam dropped.”

Throughout the weekend, legacy press outlets struggled with the Hussein execution, measuring it against their own outdated rules. What should we broadcast? What is in good taste? Can the source of the video be confirmed? Is this legitimate news? And on and on.

The Internet, by contrast, has only one rule: if you have broadband, you’re on the air. Whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever your source, legitimacy, or what you’ve got to say.

McInerney sees the way “users seize control of the means of information production” in the larger context of Moore’s Law and the falling cost of computing. He’s got a weird and interesting chart:

The Big Bang

What’s weird and interesting is the way he throws at least three related but distinct trends together:

  • Moore’s Law itself, which says that computing processing power doubles every 20-22 months

  • The consequent decreasing cost of computing, expressed in how many dollars it costs to buy a million computing instructions (or, nowadays, how many millions of instructions you can buy for a dollar)

  • The number of computer-like devices there are; this presumably includes personal computers, cellphones, servers, routers, cars and even things like the RFID readers at toll plazas and gas pumps

However weird the chart is, his conclusion seems inarguable: Falling Information Costs Restructure Everything.

By the way, while looking at the North River Venture blog, I see that McInerney also recently wrote about the turnaround at BT Group, the former UK national phone carrier British Telecom. He gives the company his highest rating, A+, for its financials and notes:

Soon BT will offer 24 Mbps, a lot more than the 15Mbps I get on Verizon’s FIOS. BT has crossed the tipping point, something that is still far off here in the U.S.

As it happens, he’s not the only one to have BT on his mind these days. The company was my telecommunications winner in our annual Winners & Losers issue of IEEE Spectrum:

Now the UK is getting a complete telecommunications makeover, from Foula to Cornwall and from the network’s core to its edges, vaulting it ahead of every country on the planet, even data-obsessed South Korea. In November, BT began the Herculean task of replacing its existing telephone network with one based entirely on the Internet Protocol. When the £10 billion network project is completed, there will be no technical difference in the UK between the telephone system and the Internet, though they will be distinct networks for security, quality-of-service, and billing reasons. The BT initiative, which the company calls the 21st Century Network (or 21CN), will give the country a phone system that will be at once the simplest and most modern imaginable.

There are a lot of ways to go when it comes to running a legacy national carrier network. AT&T and Verizon seems to be going about it wrong. BT seems to be getting it right.

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One Response to “Cellphones, executions, and the falling cost of information”

  1. continuously i used to read smaller articles that also clear their motive,
    and that is also happening with this piece of writing which I am
    reading at this place.

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