Investing in obsolescence

Posted on February 11th, 2011 | Permalink

So, I’ve got a what if: What if the United States government had never invested in telephone lines for rural areas? The answer is clear: Businesses would have suffered! People would have suffered! The country folk would have all sat in their homes weeping into their shirtsleeves (because they couldn’t afford hankies), ¬†exiled from the world at large. A societal rift would have been created, and the privileged elite from the cities would forever have held the deprived rural workers under their collective thumb. America as we know it would have been lost, and all for the want of a copper wire.

Setting aside dystopian futures and ignoring the lack of faith in the ingenuity of country folk, I ask again the question: What if the government had never subsidized rural telephone service? What if all the businesses and customers out in rural areas who needed communications infrastructure had not been provided with the technology of the day?

As small businesses do every day here in the United States, someone would have risen up to solve the problem. Cell phones might have become widespread years earlier, or a whole new wireless form of communication upon which widely available Internet access might have been built. All we had to do was wait for someone to get a brilliant idea and act on it.

And therein is the crux of the issue: We don’t want to wait. We want to preserve businesses that have failed economically by giving them the resources of those who have succeeded, because it’s something we can do right now. We want to invest in high speed Internet access because we’ve seen the good it does and we want everyone to have that good right now, and by doing so we remove the opportunity for someone creative to make a quantum leap forward. As necessity is the mother of invention, opportunity is the sine qua non of innovation.

So let’s not invest in the obsolescence of the past at the cost of the future. Let us trust that, given enough time, the small businesses upon which America is built will find a solution as long as there is a problem that requires one. Let us risk even our broadband on those who make history: the innovators.

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