Notes on the possible value of stupidity…

I’ve heard a lot of folks in the last few years railing at the stupidity of the music industry, and hey, a lot of times I was one of those people. In particular, some savvy industry watchers have lamented the sheer unbridled idiocy that the labels have displayed in dealing with the new digital world. Piracy, downloading, electronic channels as legit distribution models, etc. In sum, the popular argument is that the labels have completely missed the boat when it comes to embracing and adapting to the new realities represented by digital media and the Net.

Fair enough. For a second, let’s accept this argument. The question I want to pose is this: what if, instead of stone deadbolts, the recording industry had been in the hands of rocket surgeons? What if the people in charge at the labels had not only been geniuses ever since, say, the mid-’80s, but that they had been prescient, visionaries, capable of seeing the future with great clarity? In this scenario (which posits that they’re smart, but does not assume that they’re no longer evil), they’d have seen filesharing. Downloading. Napster. P2P. T1 lines and 100 gig hard drives. Etc.

Ask yourself what difference this might have made. Are there things they might have done differently? Are there ways in which those differences might have resulted in 2005 being dramatically unlike it actually is today? Hmmm. Well, let me ask the question more pointedly:

Would a record company exec in the 1980s, smart enough to see the future of digital music, have ever approved development of the compact disc? Or would he have concluded that his ability to control the sector depended on killing digital distribution?

Hmmm. If he had managed to kill, or at least delay, development of that particular tech, would the stifle have rippled into other areas? Would it have hamstrung other areas of the digital/Internet “revolution”?

Don’t know. Maybe. If so, this could be a case where arguably technical development was boosted significantly by stupidity. If that’s true, it could mean that there are other areas where progress depends on ignorance.

Gotta think on this some more….

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