Posts Tagged ‘technology’


Turning Up the Volume on Government

   Posted by: Robert    in Law, News

Congress is about to hand Americans another case of government overreach.  It appears that the House of Representatives has just approved the cutely named CALM Act, which now makes its way to President Obama for signature.  The bill, in essence, requires the FCC to enact regulations to control the volume of commercials on television to ensure that they are not too loud.  That the government has spent time on such a venture is entirely ridiculous.

To begin with the pragmatic question first, why in the world is the government wasting time on a bill like this?  When commercials are broadcast louder than the shows that are otherwise airing, it’s safe to say that what results is a minor annoyance at best.  I’m not someone who watches TV often, but I have noticed some commercials are louder than others.  Usually, though, it’s not too bad, and the thought of reaching for the remote never even crosses my mind.  Perhaps the most awful effect coming from the volume of commercials is that it wakes up people who fell asleep during a television show.  National security has never been compromised, and nobody has ever been hurt, because a commercial was louder than the TV show during which it aired.  The problem is, in sum, a minor trifle of an annoyance.

The government’s effort to “fix” this non-problem is likely to create some actual problems to be solved.  TV stations will, of course, be required to comply with whatever regulation the FCC ultimately decides to adopt.  It is likely that networks will be required to invest in hardware and software to analyze the broadcast volume of television shows and commercials to ensure that they are properly equalized.  This hurts small broadcasters who likely have much better things to spend that money on, as well as consumers who will ultimately be responsible for picking up the tab.

In the end, it’s impossible to see this bill as anything other than another example of government intervention into the everyday lives of Americans.  This legislation, quite simply, serves no greater purpose.  It is most unfortunate (though not surprising) that it was passed without a single recorded vote in either the House or the Senate; underscoring the triviality of the bill as well as the careless disregard with which Congress is willing to enact such legislation.

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Apple, Porn, and Central Planning

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Back in May on the blog Public Discourse, James Stoner points out an interesting analogy between Apple and the government.  In a post primarily dealing with the porn scandal at the SEC, Mr. Stoner added the following interesting comments about Apple and the iPhone:

Coincidentally, during the week that saw the announcement of the report on pornography use at the SEC there also surfaced a comment from Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers, defending his company’s ban of pornography “apps” for iPhone and other Apple products. Apologizing to a user for mistakenly rejecting an app with a controversial political cartoon, Jobs added, “However, we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone,” (Android is the comparable product of his new competitor, Google). The Wired article relaying the comment interprets “Jobs’ opposition to porn [as] loud and clear,” but adds no reasons from Jobs for his opposition: Is his a moral objection to pornography, a purely aesthetic distaste, concern about his company’s branding, concern about its market with the parents of young teens getting their first phone, or some combination of all these? The response of many geeks was instantaneous and predictable: Don’t tell me what I can and cannot watch, that’s why I’ll never buy Apple, “The web is about openness. It’s about freedom.” For whatever reason, Jobs seems unyielding and his company vigilant. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition passes muster, even Playboy without nudity and a reader for the iPhone that allows downloading of the ancient Kama Sutra are allowed, but try to sneak pornographic images into an approved app and iTunes will cut you off.

He then adds:

[O]ne can commend Steve Jobs for steadfastly refusing to allow Apple to become a platform for easy access to pornography, and commend him as well for showing that this can be done through determined business leadership, without recourse to government regulation that can threaten legitimate freedom and impose its own social costs.

But can Steve Jobs really be commended for this? I suppose as one of the “geeks” offering the “predictable” response, Mr. Stoner would be unlikely to have much interest in or patience for my views on the subject of Apple and porn.  I think, however, that it is Mr. Stoner who has missed an important reason why there is little to commend about Apple’s decision to ban pornography from its most newsworthy device.  Although Steve Jobs may be able to limit access to porn, such limits are unlikely to change the hearts and minds of people who would otherwise seek to consume it.

The main flaw in Mr. Stoner’s argument is the unfortunate fact that he reads too much into the distinction between government, on the one hand, and Apple, on the other.  It is, of course, undoubtedly true that Apple is not the government.  Unlike the government, Apple cannot force you to buy its products, and it is far easier for me to buy an EVO-4G instead of an iPhone than it is for me to move from Michigan to Peru.  That said, Apple is, without a doubt, the top central planner of the iPhone environment, and within its electronic walls, Apple acts very much like a fascist government.  While Apple may not necessarily choose winners, they undoubtedly choose the losers of its domain, leaving behind the scattered remains of such notable products as Google Voice and Adobe’s Flash Player, along with many other less notable apps which they rejected from the App Store — and, thus, the iPhone — for numerous reasons, including no reason at all.  Also, like a government, Apple collects sales tax on every piece of software sold for the iPhone, and now seeks to do the same for every advertisement by pushing its iAd service.

In short, while it may be easy to avoid the iPhone environment, once inside, there is very little that can be classified as being “legitimate[ly] free[.]”

With freedom, thus, outside the question, I find it difficult to agree with Mr. Stoner that anything about Apple shutting down porn does anything good for society.  If Steve Jobs were blocking porn as a way to send a message about values, then certainly that would be something to be applauded — except that I don’t think anyone believes that to be the case.  Instead, Apple is engaging in a sort of morally void behavior which just happens to have a desired result.  It is doubtful that anyone who wants to consume porn will find themselves not wanting to consume it because Apple has forbidden the stuff from its iPhone.  People will simply need to go find it somewhere else.

When governments pass laws or companies enact policies that mandate some moralistic result, neither are usually very effective at actually transforming the morals of their citizens or customers.  There is, quite simply, no comparison between choosing to do the right thing versus being prevented from doing things wrong.  Imposing a law against pornography does not take away the desires which bring people to consume it any more than imposing a law of gravity takes away man’s desire to fly.

Rather than trying to outlaw porn, we as a society would be much farther ahead understanding the reasons which bring people to consume it and finding a more wholesome way to satisfy those needs.  If porn is being used as stress relief, we would surely be better off emphasizing other ways to reduce workplace stress either through job restructuring (to combat the cause of stress) or some other physical activity (to direct stressful energies in a more positive direction).  But most important is that people must be made to affirmatively want to do these things, not merely fall into them for lack of a viable alternative.

That said, unlike the government which I consistently believe should be reduced in both size and power, I hold no malice toward Steve Jobs or Apple.  The iPhone, iTunes, the App Store, and all such things are their business and Apple participates in the free market just the same as anybody else.  If Apple wants to banish porn, to choose winners and losers, to lay and collect taxes, or to do any of the other things that they do, then that is entirely their right.

But as I hit “Publish” using my myTouch 3G (with Google), I affirm my own right to make my own choices, and to have my own values to win or lose by the power of persuasion in the marketplace of ideas.

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