I wrote this for my new media class over this summer semester.
While I am certainly not on the cutting edge of technology — and perhaps have never been — my position in the hierarchy of technological adaptation is closer to early adopter than it is to mainstream user. As such, I found myself one of the first users in the second wave of the popularity of Netflix. I was a pirate in my younger years, downloading huge amounts of free media from Napster and Limewire, soldering illegal hardward into my Playstation to allow it play burned copies of games that I would pay only rental fees to acquire, and burning DVD copies long before my father even knew what they were. Netflix’s service was outstanding. For a monthly fee of $25, I was burning or archiving almost a dozen movies a week.
Now, in my years as a more responsible consumer, I understand the value that Netflix brings. I am willing to pay for their service because their streaming technology is better than their competitors and, while their selection leaves something to be desired, it is still a pittance to have such a large media library on demand. The recent backlash against Netflix having to raise their rates due to the increasing awareness of the value of streaming on the part of the major networks and studios is more a question of entitlement than outrage. To pay $15 a month to have access to their DVDs with free shipping AND their streaming capabilities across any of the devices in your household (in high definition, no less) is not a matter of greed on the part of a corporation. The company needs to be profitable in order to be viable and a short-sighted leasing policy on certain titles means that huge investments need be made to maintain that profitability.
I could not be said to be a fan of corporations, but Netflix is a progressive service dedicated to improving its users’ experiences. Its recent competitor, Hulu (and its premium service Huluplus), offers a similar service but maintains an ad presence and a limited release date to appease the studios and to keep costs to the consumer low. Were a consumer to subscribe to both services, they would pay about $25 a month to have access to all that content on demand, a far cry from a cable bill (which I last paid in 2002) which comes closer to $80, including internet access.
Internet access should only count for a portion of this service as it also provides access to media in such myriad multitudes as to boggle the mind; however, most internet providers oppose a concept called net neutrality. The idea is complicated in the legislature by required legalese, but the basics are these: internet services providers like Comcast and AT&T would like to be able to charge for free access to the internet, to charge for premium bandwidths (already in place), or to advertise on a customer’s computer even outside of their email application or their browser. Understandably, these companies would like to profit on the huge networks they have created, but with a lack of net neutrality comes a limited, class-based access to information that could too easily be abused; that is, a provider could restrict access to sites run by competitors or to news sites that include disparaging information about their company.
Why is this important to new media? The internet is hardly regulated currently, and regulation could lead to higher standards of information. Content creators would need to conform to certain standards which might increase the intellectual baseline of the content available. After all, radio, television, movies and even video games have oversight. In these times of security breaches and hackers and privacy-defying paparazzi images of dead celebrities, shouldn’t the government or some other agency, perhaps the internet service providers, get involved?
The answer is not simple but one thing should be clear. The internet is clearly not analogous to those other old media concepts, even video games. It encompasses all of those ideas and adds near-incomprehensible complexity to them all while existing and expanding in its own supermodern paradigm. Perhaps the best prognosticator of the internet’s future is William Gibson, the proclaimed inventor of the cyberpunk genre of science fiction, but if science fiction is the only place we can turn for reflections of our reality, then I doubt legislation is capable of mandating how it should be treated.