Time Capsule

I recently had the good fortune to come across some long-forgotten cassette tapes recorded 35 years ago by my grandfather. On these tapes, my grandfather recounts what it was like to grow up in New York City around the turn of the last century. Listening to these stories, it is remarkable to ponder to what extent our lives have dramatically changed.

Even though he lived in New York City, my grandfather grew up in a world with no running water, no plumbing, no electricity and no heat, except for burning coal in the kitchen stove. Cars were considered a novelty. There were no movies, television or radio- there wasn’t even any recorded music at all!

One can only wonder how primitive and quaint our seemingly high tech wired existence will look 100 years from now. Will we still be using physical devices to access media, or will content just seamlessly enter our consciousness? Will we still be driving cars or will cars be driving us? Will anyone still need to commute to work? Will we be filling up with gasoline, natural gas, electricity, hydrogen, nitrogen or air? Will we still be listening to the hits of the 60s & 70s?

I am not a futurist. It is hard enough to look ahead 10 years let alone 100 years. But one thing I do know is that in order for music and the arts to continue to flourish, we need to get more serious about copyright protection. The recent defeat of SOPA/PIPA in congress as a result of lobbying by special interest groups and misinformation was a dangerous step in the wrong direction. Just because we have the technology to instantly access content anywhere doesn’t mean that it should necessarily be free.

In 1900, the American economy was largely agricultural (42%) with a growing manufacturing sector (21%) and a miniscule service sector (8%). Today these numbers have flipped: service is now the largest economic sector (40%) while manufacturing continues to decline (12%) and agriculture (2%) barely registers. Instead of agriculture and manufacturing, our economy is now knowledge-based and this trend will continue well into the future.

The reasons for this shift are obvious to anyone who has ever sat through an Econ 101 class: labor and production are generally cheaper overseas so manufacturing jobs have largely shifted out of the country. Low level service-related jobs have also followed a similar pattern, however jobs in the entertainment industry, particularly those involving creativity, have been largely immune to this trend. Indeed, in many respects this is the one industry that cannot easily be outsourced.

Our entertainment industry is one of the crown jewels in the American economy and we should be vigilant about protecting and defending the intellectual property that this industry creates. In addition to the economic benefits, there has been no greater force for democratic change in the world over the last 100 years than American movies, TV shows and music, no greater ambassador of American values and ideals the world over. Let’s not squander all this because of some misguided notions that the Internet should be a free content zone. Let’s close the door on piracy once and for all and protect and defend our intellectual property assets so that future artists and creators will have the economic incentive to continue to create new works. Let’s lay the foundation now so that our intellectual property laws are strengthened, not weakened, so that the next 100 years will continue to see a flourishing of the arts equally remarkable to the last century.

Ron Mendelsohn
April 9, 2012

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