We never do things by the best method the first time; our history of being technology leaders worked against us for decades. We were the guinea pigs of new ideas and systems, and as the world’s early adopters we often built systems that we later discovered were wrongheaded.
The rise of the Internet helped accelerate a new trend in America, that when you find a better way, you just throw out the old technology and start again from scratch.
In the past, we insisted that new technology support the existing old technology, even if it made the new not so good.
We implemented Touch-Tone signaling in telephony with the requirement that we still support rotary dialing (even to this day) on landline analog phones. They’ll probably die that way, never modernized but co-opted by cell and VOIP.
FM radio went stereo by the most arcane method, whose prime directive was to not make mono FM detectably worse. How many mono FM receivers are there today? Yet we still hold them holy.
Television is even worse. We first put it together with spit and bailing wire (some of it to support an RCA that couldn’t build a transmitter worth a damn). Then to integrate color we did some of the damnedest crazy things.
Backwards compatibility means you get to keep all your past mistakes; in so many areas this country needs to stop dragging its feet forward with shit on our shoes, whether its legacy energy systems, legacy transportation systems, or television.
Sure, the poor will suffer more, and the way that was to be ameliorated through vouchers was completely screwed up by the Bush administration. But the short term future looks pretty bleak. Six months, ten months, twelve months down the road we probably won’t be better off to take the hit.
Doing this now (or at least not postponing it again) will take some pressure off a television business that is also hurting, and will let them concentrate on their digital stream which can bring more free channels in a time that people are unhooking their cable and satellite.
But most of all, its a message we can send that we’re willing to make some tough decisions and take some bold steps to change the way we do things to a better way. If we can do that with television, we can do it with the really important stuff, like energy and climate and health care. Its time we stop trying to avoid taking the bitter pill that can help us in the long run.
Let’s just do it.