Okay, we see all sorts of crackpot ideas and theories show up from time to time, but it's not often that you get one quite this bizarre published in a publication quite as respectable as the Washington Post. Yet here is the venerable Washington Post with an op-ed from the lawyer, Dusty Horwitt, for a "nonprofit environmental group" in Washington DC complaining that blogging and other types of internet content are somehow a drag on democracy, and the solution is for the government to raise energy taxes
such that it would make it too expensive for the riffraff to continue owning computers with internet connections, thereby reducing this flood of information. Yes, I think he's serious. There is, I will admit, a chance that this is pure satire. If so, I'll just tip my hat and admit that I was fooled -- but let's move forward on the assumption this is serious.
There are so many troubling aspects to this op-ed that it's difficult to know where to start. First, he brings up the classic complaint that the internet today is producing "too much information." Apparently, he believes that all this bad
information somehow prevents good
information from being distributed. Good information, by the way, is apparently information published in traditional newspapers. He uses a troubling interpretation of a few questionable stats to establish this -- assuming that because some people spend less time on various online sites, they're somehow not getting access to the good information that they need. He doesn't seem to consider that websites and the ease of publishing now allows people to get access to more
good information that it was difficult to come by in the past.
He then goes on to suggest that true social movements have only happened because of the scarcity
of broadcast media options, which somehow forced everyone to hear only a single message. This is, apparently, a good thing -- because obviously the big professional media only reports on the important stuff, whereas everyone else only reports on bad stuff. He honestly makes the claim that the civil rights movement wouldn't have happened today, because all of these other media would have drowned out the issue. It was only because a few newspapers decided that it was important to cover it -- and because people had nowhere else to get distracted -- that people actually made civil rights an issue. Today, I guess, we'd all just go back to watching hamsters hit each other on YouTube.
So, the problem, as he has described it is that all these damn people are talking
to each other online, rather than listening
to what the big important "good" media has to tell us. He says that the answer isn't necessarily to tax the technology of production -- though he considers this -- but to tax energy
. He recognizes that it takes energy to use a computer and connect to the internet, so if it's much more expensive, he believes that plenty of folks would give up talking, and go back to being passive consumers of what the big professional media says is important today. As a side benefit (no, seriously), he points out that this increasing cost of energy would probably make it too expensive to offshore jobs. These would be the same jobs that have helped create new jobs and grow the economy (he leaves that part out). It's a wonder his proposal hasn't already been turned into legislation. Who wouldn't support a policy of higher energy costs to shut up the riff raff and make Americans have to pay more for just about everything?