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By Joel Klebanoff

Collateral Technology Value

I frequently poke fun at a few of our "advanced" technologies, but many of them produce significant collateral economic value that provides substantial income to a considerable number people who you wouldn't normally expect to benefit from these inventions. Consider high-definition video, for example. Who would have thought that it could generate large profits for dermatologists and plastic surgeons? Well, it can.

According to a January 22, 2007, New York Times article, a number of porn stars are running off to get cosmetic surgery in order to eliminate the blemishes that will be apparent in high definition that weren't visible on standard video. It's not just the medical profession that's making money off this. Instead of having their actors go under the knife and/or laser, some of the adult-video studios are using more makeup or resorting to postproduction software enhancement to eliminate unwanted blemishes. Oh my. It seems that when it comes to high-definition digital video, porn stars' definition of the term "naughty bits" is a little different than the definition used by the rest of us.

(For the record, yes, I am one of "the rest of us." I've never been in a porn film, or any other kind of movie for that matter. That won't come as a surprise to anyone who has ever seen me, particularly anyone who has ever seen me naked.)

I could probably carry the high-definition porn theme a lot further if I tried, but the fine, upstanding, politically correct editorial policies of this publication dictate that anything else I come up with must end up on the cutting room floor, so what's the point? I'll keep my lascivious thoughts to myself.

High-definition video isn't the only technology that generates profits for people other than its inventors and suppliers. That's a good thing. Otherwise, this would be the shortest column I've ever written, which just wouldn't do. After all, I'm paid by the word and I have a caffeine habit to support.

In an earlier tirade, I talked about the class-action lawsuit that Apple is facing because the claimants allege that if you stick iPod-connected earphones up against your eardrums and turn the volume up high enough to induce an earthquake of a 9.4 magnitude on the Richter scale, you will likely damage your hearing. So, right off the top of my head, I assume that at least some lawyers are going to be making money from this. Even if the claimants' attorneys, who are probably working on a contingency basis, lose, you can bet that Apple is paying big bucks to its defense counsel. I couldn't find anything on the Web reporting on what's happened with that suit since it was filed, so I assume it's still before the courts. I don't know what the outcome will be, but Apple could have avoided the whole mess if it had thought to administer an intelligence test to all prospective purchasers and refused to sell iPods to people who are stupid enough to blast anything that loud directly at their eardrums.

Apart from lawyers, I expect that audiologists and hearing-aid makers and sellers will clean up as these iPod users' hearing degenerates. Here's an idea: Why not integrate an iPod with a hearing aid. As the iPod diminishes its user's auditory abilities, the merged device could automatically compensate by increasing the volume of the hearing aid. Then again, those people who never remove their iPods from their ears would have no need for such a device because they never listen to anybody or anything else anyway. They can just turn their iPod volume up as their hearing begins to go.

What other technologies deliver benefits to people beyond the usual suspects? Cell phones offer tremendous profit potential for people outside the telecommunications industry. For example, tow truck drivers, auto body shops, hospitals, doctors, and morticians can earn considerable sums as a result of the accidents caused by people who yammer away on their handheld phones rather than concentrate on their driving. Of course, whenever an accident causes damage or injury, lawyers are going to quickly swoop in to pick at the flesh. I'm surprised that I haven't seen any reports of cell phone companies being sued for not making it impossible to use a cell phone while driving a car and for not applying the intelligence test that I recommended for iPod buyers.

The ancillary profits to be earned from cell phones don't stop there. I see a tremendous opportunity for martial arts instructors and baseball bat manufacturers. Many of us would like to use those services and products to help us teach a lesson to the people who find it necessary to be incredibly boorish while on their phones in public places. Of course, after we forcefully administer those lessons, lawyers will no doubt get involved on behalf of the boors.

BlackBerrys and other text-messaging devices also have their auxiliary markets. A number of orthopedists and physiotherapists are making money treating what they call the "overuse syndrome" or "BlackBerry thumb" that is caused by nonstop thumb-typing. I'm sure there are also lawyers generating small fortunes by trying to extract money from insurance companies and the messaging-device makers as a result of this ailment. What's more, I've got to believe that divorce lawyers are making a killing from the marriage breakups that are a consequence of BlackBerry addicts spending all of their quality time with their BlackBerrys and none with their families.

While we're on the topic of cell phones and BlackBerrys, all of the telecommunications companies keep detailed records of their customers' communications. In fact, according to a January 31, 2006, Wired News story, at that time, about a year ago as I'm writing this, AT&T already had a 312-terabyte database detailing almost all of the calls made on its domestic network since 2001. And that was just one of the company's databases. It has others. Thus, our addiction to communicating profusely by means other than in person is creating a lot of business for database vendors and disk manufacturers. And, according to the article, it's alleged that AT&T provided the National Security Agency with access to that data along with access to another massive database. I'll bet that a lot of spies were paid for hundreds of hours of overtime to sift through those records. As if that's not enough cash to spread around, the article further states that the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit accusing AT&T of violating federal laws by providing this information to the government without insisting that the government first get a warrant. Wouldn't you know it? More money for lawyers.

Hmm, do you see a common theme here? No matter who else makes a profit from a technology, lawyers are always in for a big cut. Can you spell "conspiracy"? In case you hadn't noticed, I just proved that I and/or Victoria, the editor, can spell it. (Victoria, please double-check my spelling here.)

Oh yes, something else just came to mind. My mother recently got a flat-panel television and a digital cable box. The store she bought the television from advertises that it will come and set up the equipment it sells, including hooking up the TV and cable box, which it did. But setting it up is not the same as using it. I'm not charging my mother for my time, but I think there's a lot of money to be made teaching technology neophytes how to use this unduly complex stuff. I haven't figured out how lawyers will be able to get in on this action, but I trust they'll find a way.

And, of course, there is at least one other person who makes secondary profits off various technologies. Me. MC Press pays me a few dollars to vent about technologies in this space. Please don't give any lawyers my contact information.

You may well ask how, if I am aware of the tremendous benefits that technologies bestow on the broader economy, I can still, in all good conscience, berate some of those same technologies on a fairly regular basis. Simple. I do it in the full knowledge and complete confidence that no one in his or her right mind takes me the least bit seriously. And I'm not going to worry about people who are not in their right minds. Actually, that's not true. I worry about everything, but it's far enough down on my angst list so as to not impede my writing excessively.

This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.

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