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TV appearance

November 15th, 2005

I did an interview for Inside Business a while back, about the Internet and similar. A brief snippet went to air last Sunday, though I didn’t see it. There’s a transcript for those interested.

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  1. Terje Petersen
    November 15th, 2005 at 22:35 | #1

    PROFESSOR JOHN QUIGGIN: In the Harry Potter books there’s a magic mirror and when you look in the magic mirror you see exactly what you desire and I think that’s been very much the case with the internet. It’s a very powerful and absorbing experience and people tend to assume it’s going to deliver their vision of the ideal society.

    RESPONSE: I think that in many ways it will be a better society. In fact I think it already has created a better society. However an ideal society was always going to be a big ask.

    I wonder how things are working out in Terra Nova?

  2. James Farrell
    November 16th, 2005 at 02:25 | #2

    Either I don’t understand you, John, or I suffer a crippling lack of imagination.

    The internet gives us quick access to a lot of information that would previously have been costly to acquire. Easy sharing of ideas makes for faster growth of knowledge. And it’s fun surfing the net. Against that, it poses risks to problem gamblers, children and other vulnerable people.

    The ideal society would need to ensure that people’s basic material needs are met. Industrial societies had the capacity to do this comfortably by about 1960, without the internet. Any technical and material progress beyond this point is obviously welcome; but other needs take priority at this point. The ideal society would be one where people feel valued and loved, have opportunities to develop their capacities, and have interesting and meaningful projects to work on.

    It’s never crossed my mind that the internet would deliver any of these things. So who does think that, and on what grounds? If you google ‘Intenet “ideal society”‘, you find Bill Gates raving about how the internet widens the range of entertainment options. And I can imagine that libertarian types who fetishize consumer choice might think in these terms. But your comment implies that everyone does.

    Perhaps you were thinking that, in contrast to Gates and the libertarians, people on the left see open source software and wikis as a way to undermine the private appropriation of knowledge and establish cooperation as a dominant ethic in certain spheres of activity. But that’s hardly a sufficient for the ideal society.

  3. jquiggin
    November 16th, 2005 at 07:01 | #3

    James, a good place to look for various examples of the kind of thing I was talking about is Wired, which is mostly libertarian but also sometimes runs the left version you mention, and for which I have a fair bit of sympathy. In the interview, I went on to mention the dotcom boom, which drew on a widespread belief that the Internet would deliver unlimited growth and profits for investors.

    Of course, the fact that everyone (well, not you, but lots of people) sees what they want means that most of what people see must be illusion, and the Harry Potter metaphor was meant to make that point

    I’m probably a bit more optimistic than you about the implications of open source innovation and less convinced by the view that the scarcity problem has already been solved. I’ve been meaning to write about the latter point, and will try to get to it soon.

  4. Terje Petersen
    November 16th, 2005 at 10:58 | #4

    QUOTE: The ideal society would be one where people feel valued and loved, have opportunities to develop their capacities, and have interesting and meaningful projects to work on.

    RESPONSE: My tax bill makes me feel screwed and used and it slows me in fully developing my capacities. So I suppose we aint guite their yet.

  5. November 16th, 2005 at 15:39 | #5

    One of the great things about the internet is that it provides a market for… pretty much anything. eBay will give you the going price on various cheesy religious icons, new and used video games and a 1980s tractor.

    Maybe if you live in a rural area, and subject to contrained competition for various goods due to natural monopoly, the internet is the greatest thing since cheese on toast: it gives you access to a market and ready contact with other buyers/sellers (for a slight transaction cost of the ISP). The downside is that with more and more malicious code, the transaction cost increases: now you need to get a firewall, plus that spyware scanner, download the latest security patch etc…

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