Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Walls Are Down

A wall fell not too long ago. You probably missed it. I know I did. I could make the excuse that I was distracted. After all, more than a few of us were bedazzled by the 1.6 billion dollars that Google paid for YouTube. And I confess to spending more than a little time daydreaming about what it would be like to suddenly be a multimillionaire while barely past the age of consent. These are, of course, just excuses. In a world where change comes in the blink of an eye, none of us can afford to be distracted. Otherwise we miss the point.

And what is the point you say? Well, about a decade ago there was a meeting to establish new rules for the international telecommunications industry. At this meeting, representatives of the U.S., Japan and several other countries put forth a proposal to set a universal standard for digital TV so that in the future, televisions would operate in any country, just as CDs and cassette tapes do. At first the proposal seemed certain to be adopted, then chauvinism reared its ugly head. Claiming that they did not wish to be subjected to imperialism from the West, a large number of countries voted to reject the idea of a global standard and enter the digital age with the same hodgepodge of TV systems that had ruled the analog era. Then the representatives of these countries proceeded to pat themselves on the back for having fended off an attempt by developed countries to unduly influence their cultures. They put up a wall. YouTube has pulled it down. Go to the site and you’ll see videos from all over the world. It doesn’t matter if the original video format was NTSC, PAL or SECAM, they all play on YouTube. And YouTube has also pulled down another wall. It doesn’t matter whether you are using a PC with Windows or Mac OS. The videos play on either with no need for expensive conversion software or equipment.

What the bureaucrats have put in place, technology continues to knock down. I’m not sure how many of them realize this yet, but as they do, you can bet that like their counterparts in the entertainment industry, they will start to wonder what the future holds for them. And they will be very uncomfortable. They have lost control and will never get it back. With each passing day they become more irrelevant. Power is moving from the hands of the few to the hands of the many. And that’s good news.