The Problem Of Designating Technology As Good Or Bad

from the it-ain't-so-clear... dept

We’ve said many times before that “technology is neutral.” It’s neither good, nor bad, but often can be put to either good or bad uses. While it may make sense to ban certain bad uses (though, more often than not, they’re actually already banned by law), outright banning of the technology just because there are some bad uses, seems to go too far. The Progress & Freedom Foundation has put out a bizarre report (warning: pdf file) suggesting that technologies do have inherent “good” or “bad” qualities, and you can tell this by how much the technology is used for good or bad. Thus, in their minds, the VCR is okay, because it’s mostly used for legitimate purposes. Meanwhile, file sharing is “bad”, because it’s mostly used for illegal purposes. Ernest Miller does an excellent job tearing apart this argument by pointing out that the comparison is wrong. Back when Jack Valenti was trying to ban the VCR, it was viewed in a similar light as Napster – being mostly used for illegitimate copying. It’s just in hindsight, once the technology was declared legal, that it was seen to have many, many legitimate uses (some of which, arguably, helped save the movie industry). Indeed, should the music industry ever embrace file sharing, then the majority of file sharing use would be legitimate as well. Of course, twenty years from now, I’m sure we’ll be having a similar debate, where someone will claim that some new technology is “bad” because of it’s bad uses, while they’ll point to file sharing applications as an example of a “good” technology.

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