The January 2005 issue of Laptop magazine has a column by Joel Johnson with the above title, except for the question mark. I added that.
Mr. Johnson's point is that the very knowledgeable tech users push vendors to provide benefits and value that they would otherwise withhold to maximize profit. His specific example is Verizon deliberately crippling the bluetooth capabilities of a new phone so users would have to pay them to do things like moving phtos taken with the phone's camera to a printer or laptop, rather than using the inherent capabilities of bluetooth to do that directly. Amazingly, Verizon even admitted that was what was going on and that it was only a vocal minority who noticed or cared. Here are some passages from the column:
And that’s fine, because customers have a way to respond in kind: by not purchasing these items if the overall experience is unsatisfactory.
If I can avoid being too preachy, though, I think it’s important to point out that being the sort of person who understands when a company is slighting its customers also has a certain responsibility—or at least opportunity—to be as vocal as possible.
Some companies will take their customers for granted, focusing on what “fits in their revenue model” over what is a fair value. Others, however, will listen to those of us out there on the blogs, review sites, Amazon, and even the Web sites of the companies themselves, making as much noise as possible about the short-shrifting we’ve received.
Now, compare that to the small group of knowledgeable, vocal parents or citizens in a school system. What happens to them? Well, first, many are afraid to say anything for fear retribution will be directed toward their children. Are they wrong? Maybe, but I'd never tell them not to worry and go ahead and speak up. In fact, I didn't tell them that when they called me when I was on the school board. I also didn't tell them they were right. I just said I couldn't say their fears were clearly unfounded.
Second, neither those parents, nor any others have much in the way of choice in the public schools. And, to the extent they do have choice in the public system (or choose to go private), their exercise of that choice is viewed by the system as evidence of flaws in the parents (!), not the schools they choose to leave. Racism, elitism, "pushiness" -- something negative is attibuted to the parents by school system personnel (and, in Nashville, a number of school board members), thus relieving the schools of the necessity to change.
I'm not a big believer in either vouchers or charters because I don't think they are going to happen quickly enough to put enough pressure on school systems to make a difference in a time frame I'm comfortable with. But, as systems continue to make stupid responses to the evidence of test data; as they try more and more to "make teachers do it right" -- with "right" being the current administrator's particular favored pedagogy, curriculum, or discipline approach -- rather than stepping back and realizing they need to lead in ways that maximize and enhance teachers' passion and engagement with their teaching, so long as these things keep happening, the pressure for more of the free market world in education will grow. Not because everyone who favors that is out to "make money off the kids." But because they want the schools to show some sign that they will respond reasonably, rationally, and responsibly to the messages they get from parents and students, as well as from test data.
So, if you're an educator, and you hate the idea of vouchers, start listening, really listening, and listening respectfully to your vocal minority. They're on your side!