So I'm waiting for the iPhone to "activate", by which I mean get a signal from at&t that will tell the phone to start its web-browser and wifi interfaces. That doesn't appear to be happening any time soon, but I feel I have to blog something related to the iPhone.
This article from Slate.com has an interesting comment about the social norms of waiting in line. The article points out that while it's rude to jump ahead of people to buy the first iPhone, it's not illegal.
This is a good starting point to ask what sorts of social norms should be regulated by the government. Stephen Landsburg points out that our social norm may be the best way, and using economic theory, it might be better to always put the latest arrivals at the head of the line. Computer scientists who study queuing theory have their own ideas of a "fair" way to stand in line. Other cultures have different social norms. For example, the Chinese government is now worried that Western norms will clash with Chinese norms (they take cuts) during the Olympic games in a couple years. Governments attempting to regulate social norms are in danger of forcing us to follow what may turn out to be bad norms.
Despite this, a lot of people want social norms regulated. The British government is heading that direction. Lawrence Lessig, board member of the EFF, argues that the government should regulate social norms on the Internet.
In many ways, the government is already regulating the social norms of the Internet without people quite realizing it. Electronics Arts (EA) have published their Terms of Service that you must agree to in order to play their games. Among those terms are: You will not exploit any bug in the Service or in any EA product to gain unfair advantage in the game and you will not communicate the existence of any such bug (either directly or through the public posting) to any other user of the Service. This a good social norm on one hand (we don't like cheaters) and a bad one on the other (we don't like restriction in our freedom to speak). Unfortunately, the courts have ruled in the Bnetd case that such restrictions might be enforceable. Before you argue that the government should regulate social norms, you might ask yourself if you are willing to have the government side with the wrong norm (pro-speech or anti-cheating).
As we ask the government more and more to regulate and police the Internet, how much longer are we going to get away with not paying for those services? What I mean here is that the more the government gets involved in governing the Internet, the more they are going to want to tax it. If companies like EA want the government to regulate virtual money in their games, the government is going to want to tax that virtual money.
What we have here is both the right (businesses like EA) and the left (groups like the EFF) campaigning for the government to regulate and police social norms on the Internet. I predict the situation will get worse. I'm suggesting that we should resist all such attempts by the government, even if we agree with the norm they want to regulate (such talk won't make you NetNeutrality guys happy).
Grr. I've written this long diatribe and my iPhone STILL hasn't activated. Maybe I should fuzz something else this weekend. I wonder if anybody has tested Opera recnetly...