Posts tagged ‘International Telecommunication Union’

The Technocratic Standard-Setting Urge

The Thin Green Line writes:

But other problems have such a straightforward solution the only question is, why haven't we implemented it already?So it is with the phone charger (H/T Mother Jones). How many old ones do you have kicking around in a drawer? If you're loyal to a particular phone, you may even have several identical chargers. Because they're electronic, you're also burdened with disposing of them properly lest they leach their toxins into some poor, unsuspecting landfill.

Not only that but chargers use a good bit more electricity than they need to and are vampires"”meaning they continue to draw power even when they're not, you know, charging.

Now imagine a world where not only did phone chargers use less energy, but they were universal, meaning any charger fit any phone. That would mean about 600 million fewer chargers each year stashed in drawers around the world and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 24 million tons a year"”not even to mention e-waste.

The UN's International Telecommunication Union has approved this universal dreamboat of a charger. It will use half as much energy on standby. Samsung, Nokia and Motorola have already agreed to use it. Of course, they're hemorrhaging business to BlackBerry and word yet from those guys.

I wrote:

There are at least two problems with this.  The first is that consumers are all different.   A lot of cell phones (and other devices like my kindle) are standardizing on a mini-USB connection.  Should I use the UN's solution, which is likely inferior?  Why?  Most of the time I don't even travel with a charger, I plug the mini-USB into my computer to charge.  That way I only have 1 charger on the road, for my computer.  You want me to carry 2, in the name of having fewer chargers?   You might say, "well, I hadn't thought of this situation," and I would say, "that's the point - you can't, there are 6 billion of us individuals out there."

The second problem is innovation.  Who says that innovation won't demand a different type of connection in 2 years?  Do you really want your technology gated to some working group at the UN?  Go back in time and imagine the government locking in a standard on something.  We still would have 801.11a wireless only, or cars would still all have crank starts (but they would all turn the same direction!) or cars would all have the same size wheels.  If the UN had invented something 3 years ago, it would have been power only and not data.  Today, most cell phones have power connections and connectors that double as data ports.

There is always a technocratic urge in messy changing technology markets to swoop in and mandate a standard from above, even while the technology is still evolving.  The problem is that neither you nor anyone else knows everything.  Hayek described this information problem well but you make it abundantly clear on this site you have no familiarity with Hayek.  You extrapolate what seems to be a good solution from your narrow knowledge, but cause many of us to sub-optimize because you did not anticipate how I use my charger or what technology some cell phone manufacturer today may be developing that requires a different kind of charger standard.