Singularity Law

The Information Technology Law Blog and Podcast by Professor Michael Scott

Being Digital

In 1995 I read a book written by Nicholas Negroponte – the Founding Director of the MIT Media Lab. Called, Being Digital, the book made some predictions that were both incredibly exciting and seemingly improbable. This was a time when the Internet was just coming into its own – having been a closed, government-funded network for most of its existence. It was a time when HD TV specifications were still being debated, cable companies had the only “high-speed” transmission lines, and telephone modems provided user with the breathtakingly slow transmission speed of 7200 baud.

But Negroponte saw those technological impediments as transitory speed bumps in the transformation of the computer to the center of our world. At the time it seemed unlikely, but over the last 15 years the Internet, smart phones, the iPad, myriad software apps, and high-speed phone lines have proven Negroponte right on so many of his predictions.

When I read the book for the first time in 1995 it made me think about how the law, business and society would need to change if his predictions came true. Much of my research over the last decade and a half has focused on the impact of what I call “transformative media” on the law. Ever five years I reread Negroponte’s book. It is always fresh and generates lots of new ideas. I just finished reading the book for the fourth time and am still amazed by how many of his predictions have come true just over the last five years (since I last read his book) – particularly with regard to the demise of newspapers, the emergence of e-books, broadband technologies driving Blockbuster into bankruptcy and DVD rentals replaced with Netflix downloads, while CDs (“atoms”) continue to lose ground to iTunes and other digital downloads (“bits”).

Although the book is now 15 years old, it is still a compelling read, and I would highly recommend it. (Ironically, the book is NOT available as an e-book. Portions of the book are available online, but to get the whole book, you still must buy the “atoms.”) What’s up with that?

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