“The Medium is the Message”

One of the arguments against sharing music was society will be diminished because no one will create music without a sufficient intellectual property incentive.

We now have a flourishing culture of sharing for video, in which people of diverse skill levels are creating huge amounts of content. No shortage there.

So I want to ask, “Is there a flourishing of digital music content today?” Surely it is easier to both create and enjoy music than it is for video. (Music requires lower bandwidth and less power, play-anywhere music devices are good and plentiful, and music creation software are quite fantastic.)

It feels like there is lot of free music available in video form. I wonder if the legal fight against music sharing — rather than sharing itself — has stifled the medium of sound-only recording, even as the more demanding but less legally bullied video medium has exploded. The music itself has just been switched to a new medium, and may ultimately be better for it.

Meanwhile, it seems that half the top 10 best selling printed novels in Japan were written on and for cell phone distribution. I’ve heard that the explosion in the genre coincides with the spread of flat-rate pricing on text messaging.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. Stearns, you just confirmed something that I thought I’d never admit. Japan has finally surpassed the U.S. in innovation.

    Once upon a time, Japanese companies took American inventions and made them better. Cars, consumer electronics, and eventually computers were made in Japan, first for the Japanese market, and later for export. They turned out to be better, in some instances, than American products because they had been cured in the crucible of internal Japanese competition.

    Think katanas vs. claymores for a simple analogy.

    Now, things are quite different. Japan has quite a thriving, competitive retail ISP sector. Oddly enough, for a population with the fastest internet connections in the world, wired ethernet, outside of the business world, is looked upon as an anachronism.

    Most Japanese use their mobile phones for everything. Pricing models have changed to reflect this reality. Things are very different in Japan. The services available to mobile users have been allowed to evolve much faster. Why?

    I think it’s because NTT DoCoMo isn’t run by the same greedy bastards that run AT&T or Verizon. I could be wrong. Perhaps corporate CEO’s, to a person, are all a bunch of greedy 4-year-olds. Maybe it has something to do with regulation.

    Whatever the cause, Japan’s telecoms sector keeps innovating. They keep spinning out new ideas. They are undergoing a Renaissance, which is only fitting, since the whole country was so down in the dumps in the previous decade.

    I think the bottom line is: America will never catch up. If the USA does catch up, it’ll require something like a moon-shot. It will take a massive investment in infrastructure. The fact that e-novels are being sold in Japan, when we can’t even get the Kindle out the door is telling.

    From where I’m sitting, this is what it looks like. The center of power has shifted. Cultural and economic power has moved away from Western forces. For now, America commands respect due to its military power. Even that power is fading away.

    Maybe the best we can do is copy Japan, the way they used to copy us. To that, all I can say is “Oh, how the mighty have fallen”.

  2. (Note that I’m just speculating about extortionary action causing a shift to a newer medium for music creation. I don’t have any data to back that up.)

    Is innovation itself a “medium” of expression for a culture?

    Assuming Japan has seized the innovation mantle, I’d love to learn why.

    It could have to do with “greed” as Shun mentions, or more generally, the goal-setting drivers for Japanese businesses. But I have no insight there.

    I think rather than regulation per se, there is a pervasive corruption in U.S. government that manifests itself in designer-regulation and institutional practice that tends to reward the big status quo players at the expense of innovation. http://wetmachine.com/totsf/ has many examples. But I would naively think that that Keiretsu (and previous Zaibatsu, clans, etc.) would be similar, no?

    Another driver might simply be space. It’s hard for Americans like me to imagine the cramped homes and offices of Japan, but I’ve got to believe that it leads to much greater selectivity among users. A consumer’s budget simply cannot go towards a big screen TV that displaces all other technology spending. There’s no room to keep yesteryear’s gadgets. E books happen because there’s simply no room for bookshelves.

    But I really don’t know what the drivers for Japanese innovation are, nor how this will apply to, e.g., China and India. What do you think?

  3. I have the impression, with no data, that back in the old days before phonographs (televisions, etc), many more people played musical instruments and made their own music.

    I’ve wondered if big expensive kinds of music, like arena rock, will go away, because the record sales won’t sustain it. People donate lots of money so subsidize operas and symphonies, which cannot be sustained by ticket sales and album sales, but I don’t think they do the same for the next would-be Kiss or Rolling Stones.

    I wonder if small, inexpensive videos will replace movies as we know them, much as small churches have replaced cathedrals?

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