Watch ‘Pretty In Pink’ to Grasp the Unseen Horrors of Net Neutrality

Pretty In Pink was released on February 28, 1986. The John Hughes film about high school and teen angst included one of the first film-based hints of the technological future that was at our doorstep. Specifically, Andrew McCarthy’s character (Blane) flirted with Molly Ringwald’s Andie on library computers, with the end result one of Blane transmitting a picture of himself from his terminal to hers.

In 2024 it would be viewed as primitive, but in 1986 it was a look ahead. Which is the point, or should be. Specifically, tomorrow will be shaped by intrepid investment today.

What’s important about the pixelated photo slowly transmitted from one computer terminal to another is that the only difference between then and now is knowledge. Thanks to immense knowledge creation and acquisition since 1986, individuals the world over can transmit words, photos, videos, books, movies, and seemingly anything else all over the world within seconds. Such is the genius of investment.

When wealth is put to work, those eager to invent the future are matched with capital on the way to a great deal of beautiful failure. Yes, you read that right. The vast majority of investment results in the proverbial dry hole without which progress stops. As Caltech professor Carver Mead has put it, if all of your experiments work out as expected or desired, “you haven’t learned anything.”

Please think about this with the internet that could claim but several million users roughly ten years after Pretty In Pink hit the theaters. Remember logging onto AOL via your landline phone? Remember how slow the connections were, how spotty they could be, and how limited the online experience was? Do you remember being asked in mystified fashion if you were “surfing the net”? What’s universal today, what’s always and everywhere today, was a legitimate question in the mid-1990s.

Please keep the past in mind as FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel aims to reintroduce “net neutrality,” a price control that would decree equal all internet-based communications and usage. And with Rosenworcel’s aims in mind, imagine if the FCC had arrogated to itself such extra-constitutional powers in the 1990s, and worse, acted on them. It’s no reach to suggest that the internet as we know it wouldn’t exist today such that life as we know it would be profoundly different.

What’s important about this counterfactual is that had the internet never become what it’s become, it’s not as though we would presently notice the difference. Think about it. Who was “demanding” the internet, high-speed internet, or WiFi back in 1990, or for that matter 1986 when Pretty In Pink reached theaters? Few demand or yearn for what they can’t imagine.

Which is why we should all be so grateful that regulators and politicians didn’t discover the internet until it had achieved a version of “universal” in our lives. If you remember the “AOL Everywhere” ads you likely see the point. By the time AOL was “everywhere” in ads and in fawning media features, the formerly faddish notion that was the internet had everywhere qualities.

The problem now is that Chair Rosenworcel seems bent on snuffing out investment meant to discover the tomorrow of the internet. Why else try to reinstate “net neutrality’? If communications and usage are to be decreed equal in a cost sense, what’s the point of investing in advances meant to render the internet usage of today dial-up primitive relative to what’s ahead?

What will internet users miss out on if Rosenworcel’s extra-constitutional policy yearnings become a commercial reality? The answer is that we don’t know, simply because we can’t demand the unknown. But just as we can’t imagine life without the internet of today, how horrifying to think that the price control falsely described as “net neutrality” could deprive us of what the internet could be. And it’s what we aren’t “demanding” from the internet that should really worry us. See Pretty In Pink if you’re confused.

Republished from RealClear Markets


  • John Tamny

    John Tamny is a popular speaker and author in the U.S. and around the world. His speech topics include "Government Barriers to Economic Growth," "Why Washington and Wall Street are Better Off Living Apart," and more.

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