The Internet – the Interstate & Lemonade Stands…

Lemonade Stand in Westchester NYI’ve taken a brief break from Thomas Piketty and have picked up a book I started reading last year but never finished.  Jaron Lanier’s book “Who Owns the Future?”  is a very compelling read while it paints frightening indictment of “big data” and “siren servers”.   Indeed, the New York Times review of this book boasts the title  “Fighting Words Against Big Data”.

The internet goes feudal…

At a time when net neutrality is in jeopardy and Comcast (the #1 cable and internet company) is trying to merge with Time Warner Cable (# 2 on the same list) creating an internet/cable colossus, Lanier’s  message is a timely one.  The internet and information economy has taken on a decidedly “feudal” turn over the past 15 years.  In the 90s, the internet was instrumental in leveling the playing field for many entrepreneurs with new products and ideas.  But that internet has been dying a slow agonizing death.  A merger of the Comcast/TimeWarner proportions combined with the demise of net neutrality  will probably be the final nails in the “open internet, equal opportunity” coffin. 

Although I would like to think that these two things won’t happen, there is nothing in our recent political history that suggests that they won’t.  Yes, there has been tremendous push-back but its mostly from the “little people”, the small local business owners, the startup entrepreneurs and maybe the odd political activist.  Their voices are many, but their wallets are light.  They can’t compete with the moguls and their lobbyists that are throwing money around at our policy makers  like confetti.

The free-market cowboys would have us believe that this is capitalism at its best. Big fish eat small fish and he who has the best mousetrap conquers the market.  Ok, maybe I shouldn’t get started. But Lanier points out where this type of libertarian concept takes us when taken to its ultimate end-game by comparing the internet to our roads and bridges which (only for the time being)  are part of the public sector.

Lemonade Stands Don’t Work in the Wilderness…. 

Jaron Lanier builds his argument by analogy siting an incident where during the presidential campaign of 2012.  President (and candidate) Obama’s words were taken out of context.  (How shocking…)

When Obama told business leaders “you didn’t build that” he was of course referring to the roads, bridges, electrical grids, sewage, drainage  and other infrastructure that their businesses counted on to function and thrive. Opponents  were all over this like a bad rash and created a photo-op with a group of youngsters who built a lemonade stand and asked them if they had built their businesses rather than the government.

But what would have happened if there were no systems in place to support the lemonade stand.  What if there was no access to water? How can you make lemonade without that?  What if there was no road? How can the youngsters shop for the lemons and sugar that go in the lemonade.  Without roads, how do  people to actually FIND the lemonade stand?  The youngsters built the stand by themselves, but all the things that made the lemonade stand possible and profitable were a part of public works.

The private road app and the lemonade stand – a cautionary tale…  

Privatized roads hold a great deal of appeal for libertarians.  Letting the private sector “take care of it” is in their DNA.  The trouble with this is why would anyone in the private sector build a road?  The answer is “for profit”.  So what could that look like from the standpoint of the lemonade stand when it is treated like an “end-user”.

Here is Jaron Lanier’s  potential end-user license agreement  that our lemonade entrepreneurs might encounter under a privatized road system run for profit as an app.  Typical revenue models established by app stores are used throughout this scenario.

Dear parents or legal guardians of ________________

As you may be aware, your daughter is one of _______ children in your neighborhood who recently applied for a jointly operated StreetApp®  of the category ‚ “Lemonade Stand”

As the owner/operator of the street on which you live, and on which this proposed app would operate, StreetBook is required by law to obtain parental consent. By clicking on the ‚”yes” box at the bottom of this window, you acknowledge you are ________’s parent or legal guardian, and also agree to the following conditions:

1. A percentage of up to 30% of revenues will be kept by StreetBook…..

2. You will submit lemonade recipes, your stand design, signage, and the clothing you will wear to StreetBook for approval. StreetBook can remove your stand at any time for noncompliance with our approval process.

3. All commerce, not limited to lemonade purchases, will be conducted through StreetBook. Customers must have StreetBook accounts even if they live on a street owned and operated by a StreetBook competitor. StreetBook will place a hold on all moneys in order to collect interest, and might place a longer hold if any party makes claims of fraud or activities that violate this agreement or any other residential use agreement…

4. A $100 annual fee must be paid to be a lemonade stand developer…

5. Limited free access to StreetBook’s curb in front of your house is available in exchange for advertising on your body and property. The signage of your lemonade stand, the paper cups, and the clothing worn by your children must include advertising chosen solely by StreetBook.

6. If you choose to seek limited free access to use of the curb in front of your house, you must make available to StreetBook a current inventory of items in your house, and allow StreetBook to monitor movement and communications of individuals within your house…

7. By accepting this agreement, you agree that any liabilities related to accidents or other events in the vicinity of your StreetApp¬Æ will be solely the responsibility of you and other individuals involved. We provide the ability for you to connect with others, and profit from that, but you take all the risk…

8. You acknowledge that you have been notified that StreetBook’s internal procedures for security and privacy don‚t take into account how our systems might be taken advantage of by criminals or pranksters who are able to combine data we give out freely with data given out freely by other businesses, such as the privatized utilities you are signed up to…

9. For additional fees, you can purchase ‚”premium address” services from StreetBook. These include lowering your visibility to door-to-door solicitors and increasing your visibility for food delivery and repair businesses you have contacted. By accepting this agreement, you agree to receive information about our premium services by phone and other means.

10. Portions of your local, state, and federal taxes are being applied to the government bailout of StreetBook, which is obviously too big to fail. You have no say in this, but this clause is included just to rub it in.

Please click “next” to proceed to page 2 of 37 pages of conditions.

Click here to accept.

StreetBook is proud to support a new generation of entrepreneurs.


Jaron Lanier – Who Owns the Future? Extensive quote from the chapter  “If Life Gives you Eulas, Make Lemonade” 

There was no intent to plagiarize here, but it was simply too well done not to quote almost in full.

When you look at that scenario, can you then better imagine what the end of net-neutrality and the merger of the two largest internet/cable companies could mean?  This has tentacles  that reach into every aspect of our lives, prosperity and freedom.  It has the ability to crush small start-ups before they can even draw their first breath. Lemonade stands are the tip of the iceberg.  Such a “feudal” system has the capacity to put a pall over  freedom of the press and access to anything that  might be “objectionable” or destabilizing to the “powers that be.”

Oh and btw, come to think of it, roads and the water supply are probably best left to the public sector as well…

© 2014 – RGHicks – – All rights reserved.

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