Now that net neutrality is in the news again thanks to President Obama’s strong statement in favor of it yesterday, it’s worth revisiting one of the core tenets of technology.
In a free market, when technology increases personal freedom, it succeeds. When it tries to diminish personal freedom, it fails. People stop using it, and it becomes irrelevant. Not always immediately, but eventually and inevitably.
Technology is not a staple. You don’t need it to live. It’s not food, or water, or shelter, or clothing. It’s a luxury.
People adopt luxury goods for a lot of different reasons – to look important to their friends and peers, to alleviate boredom, to make their lives a little bit easier or more comfortable.
But in the case of technology products, the huge groundbreaking hits only happen when the technology in question frees people from a more burdensome way of doing things. That’s true whether individuals are buying those products for themselves, or whether they’re choosing to use them in the workplace. (The old days of a company’s IT department buying a crummy product and forcing it down employees’ throats is coming to an end, and never worked all that well anyway – every big company has a mountain of “shelfware,” products that were bought and maybe tested, but never widely rolled out because employees hated them and refused to use them.)