We Have the Technology! Now What?

While there was a short-lived fear that fans of the Simpsons and American Idol might lose their TV shows at the turn of the decade, the recent deal cut between Fox and Time Warner Cable is not the first case of a cable provider paying a network to broadcast its shows. According to the Washington Post, CBS already receives payment from Time Warner Cable and Dish Network, but Fox’s move (a company of News Corporation) has gotten a lot of attention because it is part of News Corp.’s ambitious plans to bring profit back to the media business. God bless’em.

No, I suppose it’s not that simple. I have not heard, however, a valid counter-argument to Murdoch’s repeated claim that providers of news and television shows should be compensated financially for their work. In our rush to grab up as much free music, movies and news as we can, we’ve conveniently forgotten that it takes money, sometimes a good deal of it, to produce education and entertainment media.

The typical rejoinder to Murdoch is that technology has progressed beyond his 20th Century business model, that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, that future of media is free, etc. Just look at the music industry, they say. Conspicuously absent in such analysis is whether or not technological advancement should be used in this way: to provide free media to everyone everywhere.

Technology progresses faster than the evolution of human values. Atomic weapons, for example, occupied the political main stage even though everyone was well aware that their use could terminate our species and perhaps life as we know it. “Ought” cannot be inferred from “is”. The progress of our technology does say something about our species, but what is more important is how we decide to use the tools we fashion.

We cannot un-invent the atomic bomb, but we can think ethically about its technology. Similarly, we cannot take back the technology that distributes media freely, but it’s time we start thinking ethically about it.

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