Good news: the dismal science meets YouTube

The Internet’s World Wide Web continues to astound as well as appall me, sometimes within the same Web page.

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Maybe it’s time to awaken your inner movie director. “Ready when you are, CB!” And then, “Lights, camera, action!” Who knows, you may get your future 15 minutes of fame the video way.

The Internet’s World Wide Web continues to astound as well as appall me, sometimes within the same Web page. Nowhere is this more true than among the relatively new so-called “social networking” sites such as “MyPlace” and “YouTube.” These rabidly popular Web sites are multiplying faster than rabbits, with the result that I am daily becoming even more appalled with their lightweight content.

But, wait, wait, don’t tell me! Things may not be as bad as they appear at first sight. One of my favorite economists has taken on the job of explaining just what’s what with the new media and its burgeoning technology. He offers some extremely cogent reasons for the rapid upsurge in the new lowest common denominators in these Web sites. But all is not lost. Not yet, anyway.

The outspoken economist is Hal Varian, who goes by the incredibly cumbersome title of “Haas Operations and Information Technology Management Group Class of 1944 Professor of Economics,” at the University of California at Berkeley. In case you haven’t heard of Prof. Varian, he is the very successful author of Intermediate Microeconomics: a Modern Approach (Fifth Edition, Norton, New York, 1999), a 600-page gorilla of a textbook that has more or less demolished the idea of economics as “the dismal science.”

Professor Varian has an impressive curriculum vitae at www.ischool.berkeley.edu/~hal. Don’t be put off by the academic research papers. Varian is a rarity-an economist who communicates well in several media. I recommend that you start by viewing a somewhat dated but still interesting interview (click on “Talks”).

Actually, I began to read Varian about five years ago when, while waiting in my dentist’s office, I accidentally stumbled upon his usually stimulating monthly column, subtitled “Economic Scene,” which appears every fourth Thursday on page C3 of the Business Day section of The New York Times.

Recently I read a very intriguing column by Prof. Varian with the attention-grabbing headline, “Why Old Media and Tom Cruise Should Worry About Cheaper Technology.”This column is well worth the reading (you can find all his newspaper columns on his personal Web site). He implies that new and inexpensive technology could have much more impact on our own personal creativity than on the outrageous salaries of Mr. Cruise and his fellow film thespians.

Varian foresees, correctly in my view, that the explosion of cheap video technology changes the “economic rent” of no-longer costly movie production. The current and future dramatic leaps in quality and performance will lead to an outpouring of “creative, inexpensive and compelling semiprofessional content available via the Internet.” Much of this new video content will be sophomoric, admits Varian. Nonetheless, he draws a simple parallel with books, where advances in printing and binding technology led to cheaper books and eventually to more demand for better authors. So it will go with tomorrow’s improving amateur video “auteurs.”

“It is a great time to be a video fan,” claims Varian. I agree wholeheartedly. For less than $1,000, anyone can set up a movie studio with a portable video camcorder, a tripod, lights and a microphone, an Apple iMac editing unit, and production center in a basement or garage. You can produce and direct movies just for your family and friends or for a wider Internet audience or even for broadcast over one of your local public-access channels offered by the cable TV provider in many towns.

Maybe it’s time to awaken your inner movie director. “Ready when you are, CB!” And then, “Lights, camera, action!” Who knows, you may get your future 15 minutes of fame the video way.

And Professor Varian: keep those columns coming!

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Jeffrey Bairstow
Contributing Editor
jnbairstow@verizon.net

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