Waste Time? Me?

(Grrrr — a WordPress problem made me lose the post I’m about to rewrite here. Grrrrr.)
As if there weren’t enough means for online self-hypnosis, Suw pointed to a site which has mashed up Google Maps with the Transport for London data APIs. It produces, as a result, a map that shows real-time representation of where each train is on each line of the London Underground. You could sit there and watch King’s Cross or Oxford Circus for ages.
Entertaining as this is, it affords only a glimmer of the blazing light that will rise over the horizon when more APIs make usefully available more sorts of data. The mapmaker notes that a version for (above-ground) trains would be welcome, but we can all think of zillions of comparable services we’d like to be able to check on from home or from our mobile devices.
On a related note (trust me for the “related” part if it’s not obvious), the Guardina posts an interview with Graham Linehan, the writer/director responsible for Father Ted and The IT Crowd, as part of the run-up to the eagerly-awaited fourth season of The IT Crowd. Linehan notes that he understands people who download his shows, and although he wants them to cooperate with the means by which he earns network support to make the show, the networks positively obstruct people from enjoying his work (rather than making it easy to obtain legit copies for a reasonable price). “[T]he current system is broken and everybody is pretending that it’s not. Can’t we talk about this and try and come up with something that is good for everyone?”
We ought to be able to — but the publishing/distribution industry has opted not to embrace the near-zero-cost dimension of online reproduction and transmission, and instead to try to preserve the pre-digital economy of restricted reproduction and transmission. In so doing, they move from circumstances in which the impediments to copying are, generally, implied by the material conditions that limited copying (which limitations were thus, in effect, cost-free) to circumstances in which the impediments to copying derive entirely from extrinsic agencies. So when you bought a hardback copy of Moby Dick, you were paying hardly anything for the publishers’ copy-protection; they didn’t need much copy-protection, since the cost and labour of copying it out longhand, or re-typing it, or even photocopying it, amounted to more than the cost of buying a legit version. When you buy a DVD of The Hurt Locker, though, you’re paying for for all the copy-protection infrastructure that the publisher/distributors have decided to deploy in order to impede your doing something that is, in the current technological environment, utterly brain-dead simple. You’re paying for the DVD maker to license and install copy-protection software on the disk; you’re paying for the law firms who research, prosecute, and negotiate settlements; you’re paying for the generous lobbying and political contributions that the industry makes to shore up its increasingly unpopular tactics; you’re paying for ISPs to sniff and regulate (or shut off) your broadband traffic (thank heaven they never make mistakes, nor ever let private information fall into the wrong hands!); you’re paying for their PR campaigns that feature the sort of annoying and unpersuasive “public service announcements” that clog up DVDs and delay the main feature at theatres; and you’re paying for still more devices and services all of which serve only to make your honestly-purchased DVD (or CD) less useful. “Say, wouldja tack on an extra ten percent so that I can’t make copies of this, please?”
Homework assignment: Estimate how effective all these measures are at preventing informed would-be copier/sharers from copying and sharing. Estimate the savings to customers (or the direct benefits to performers) if one were to eliminate the cost of ineffective impediments, or were to direct those sums to performers in proportion to the sales of their recordings. Essay question: Is this a better, more economically sound way of ordering public and mercantile life?
Linehan, to his credit, recognises that this is not a sustainable business model. It cannot last; it can’t. You can’t keep charging (and criminalising) customers indefinitely to sustain artificial scarcity and limitations. Someone put Linehan in charge of some media corp, soon, please.

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