Thursday, May 26, 2005

NIMBY – Route Around

When I was younger there was a term that technologists used disparagingly for folks who did not want a piece of technology located in proximity to their dwellings. The acronym is NIMBY and stands for Not In My Back Yard. NIMBY is still alive and well as evidenced by the fuss raised over near-shore windmill farms. I believe that the NIMBY concept is also a way to explain our stance on various new technologies such as stem cell research, downloadable content distribution, and morning-after birth control that various groups do not want to see the light of day.

Which brings me to the second part of this title: route-around. In this interconnected world, the influence of any group is much more limited than in the past. Something not available in your neck-of-the-woods due to legislation or other disincentives, hop on the Internet and find it elsewhere. Groups that are successfully limiting a technology based on moral, or other grounds are simply surrendering that technology to others who will do the work necessary to make that technology succeed.

People need to realize that you really can’t ban a technology, all you can do is cede the access to that technology while the rest of the world passes you by. So when stem cell research, therapeutic cloning or other technologies are illegal in the United States the development continues elsewhere.

Route around is not limited to just technology bans. In the world of commerce, the Cluetrain Manifesto expressed it best in item number 89:

We have real power and we know it. If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.

As the content industries are well aware, the market is demanding commercial-free familiar content available on an on-demand basis. Failure to satisfy the market by the content companies has resulted in market-side supply models appearing.

And its not just pirated content! Since these companies are trying to survive by ignoring the market and using NIMBY to defeat the technologies, the market is in some cases finding new content which does not come from these old line companies and thus is useful to the market on the market’s terms. The content companies are risking becoming irrelevant because no one wants their content on their terms when just as compelling content is available via more market-friendly supply models.

You can’t stop a technology by legislation. Further, when you do legislate a technology out of existence, you hand the technology and its expertise to another party. When the time comes that you recognize the benefits of this technology your choices are very limited: acquire the technology, or spend time and money playing catch-up. Not the best position to be in. All technologies need to be understood from a risk and benefit balance and the implications of a decision to ban a technology needs to be represented as the price for the moral purity obtained by turning away from the technology.

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