Sat Feb 11th, 2012 at 11:02:21 PM EST
Every so often I get big, utopian ideas that are probably totally unworkable and undesirable, but nonetheless interesting to think about. ET is a great place for reasoned and rational discussion of policy ideas, and there hasn't been much talk along these lines outside of finance and energy of late. So, here are some big ideas to think about. Tear me to pieces, and in the process let's have an interesting discussion.
Up for discussion today is an old idea, the abolition of advertising, and a new one, the radical dissolution of media conglomerates.
When possible, I'd like to ask people to think about, "is this a good idea?" and "would this work as intended?", rather than "The powers that be would never allow this." I'm fully aware of the utterly impossible nature of ridiculous Utopian ideas - but I do find it fun to think about them.
1 - Advertising
The way I see it, advertising is a Bad Thing in at least two main ways. While its continuing contributions to Design and Art are indisputable, it is also by design a medium for the mass transmission of manipulation and lies. Further, this lie transmission medium is the primary way in which several important forms of modern popular culture are funded, and as such potent and valuable artistic mediums are designed and executed at least in part as message-delivery mechanisms for interested parties. Neither of these seem like a particularly good thing.
So, what to do about it? A long time ago, I proposed the idea of a government ratings board for television, which allocated taxpayer funds to various entertainments according to how many people watched them. The producers of popular entertainments would thus be rewarded directly for their success in attracting viewers, rather than through an intermediary layer of advertisers who value particular demographic segments and pay for the right to lie to them. Further, this system could work equally well in the current network-oriented system and in a theoretical future in which all programs are always available for viewers, who can pick and choose what to watch at any time.
Given technological advances in digital television and network technology, a reporting technology could be easily built in, which would report directly to the central database. On the one hand, this would be obviously Orwellian - the state knows what you are watching, always. On the other, for the most part this information is already collected, kept, and analyzed by a variety of private entities as is. I tend to think of privacy as being something already dead in the modern world, and thus would view a government-run system as a distinct improvement, as the government is theoretically subject to democratic control, and is theoretically operated with the public interest in mind.
Further, the same exact mechanism could be used to levy the "Culture Tax" to pay for such a system. Fees could be levied on a per/viewing basis, monthly basis, or whatever, and then allocated directly or proportionally to the various entertainments actually watched. Then again, since the money is coming from the government directly, and many here have pointed out that there is no actual need for spending to be funded by tax money, then the entire system might then be made entirely free to the end user, and funded entirely through money creation. Thus, the only limit to funding would be viewer interest, and a massive creative industry could bloom.
2 - Ownership
The previous proposal is a bit forward looking, but this one is much more rooted in the here and now. What public benefit is there in media conglomerates? This is a serious question. Should they be allowed to exist at all?
What would a radically decentralized system look like, and what would its strengths and benefits be? For example, imagine a legal framework in which every media entity was an independent, owner-operated enterprise. It's easy to imagine this system for print media, as it was the case in the distant past. Each newspaper, and each magazine, is its own entity, with no connection in management or ownership to any other. Broadcast television poses its own technical problems, due to the localized nature of broadcast, and scale problems, due to the mismatch between production costs and viewer base. Perhaps allow networks, so long as the network is the ultimate entity, with no further links of ownership or management?