On Scale versus Size

opengardenBy Mike Small

These are just some fleeting notes in response to an article by Emily Bell where she outlines the extraordinary moment we’ve lived through in media and communications:

“Twenty years ago was perhaps one of the most significant phases in modern communications as consumer access to the internet was in its infancy. Microsoft was just launching its first web browser, Internet Explorer, the global penetration rate of mobile phone ownership was 1%, and the world’s largest internet company was Netscape”.

All true, but I can’t endorse with her conclusion that “The story of the past two decades for almost all media companies has been dictated by scale. Those who could achieve it, the Amazons and Googles (and in a different sphere even the Guardian) and those that couldn’t, or that lost it, in a new global market for information.” And: “The next 20 years are similarly unknowable, but one thing is becoming clear; whatever it is, is going to have to be big.”

I’m with William James: “Only small things can remain voracious and innocent.” Corporate media may be consuming itself but the landscape is far more varied than she describes and the trajectory of media trends is quite different from the picture she paints. Huge media beasts are open to failure in a way that smaller, more nimble responsive ones are not. Look at what’s happened to the banks and the supermarkets. Huge ‘untouchable’ institutions stagnate in a pool of their own invincibility until they fall over.

Google is quite different to Amazon but the trends, according to the Open Garden are for decentralised technologies to dominate – mimicking and boosting the political meme of the last five years that we’ve only seen a glimpse of in Scotland. Nowhere is this collision between political accountability, demand for transparency and the rejection of surveillance being seen more clearly than in Iceland where the spectacular rise of the Pirate Party is manifestation of a citizen libertarianism with hacktivism and the rejection of an old failed political order.

Everywhere, says Fred Wilson of  Union Square Ventures: “We are seeing technology-driven networks replacing bureaucratically-driven hierarchies,”

Shareable lists 21 technologies that will decentralise the way we share and interact and act as a catalyst for deeper media change.

The model is not for the revived media giants but for the 5th Estate (1) to continue it’s rise – content creators en masse – disseminating information and analysis far faster and better than the old media giants and enhanced by network power, microblogging and cryptocurrency.

The twenty years of communications change Bell describes is just a starter dough.

Arguably Wikileaks has emerged as the most powerful of these rhizomic phenomena, changing global policy and challenging the surveillance state, and the interesting issue is how these different models interact – as they did with the Guardian – to different effect. Or as Rupert Murdoch is doing with Twitter.

This is not to argue that ‘new media good’ – ‘old media bad’ – or that there aren’t lots of grey and interaction between them, but just that the size of corporate media takeover and empire building is happening parallel to a very different movement emerging.

(1) Dutton, W. H. (2009), ‘The Fifth Estate Emerging through the Network of Networks’, Prometheus, Vol. 27, No. 1, March: pp. 1-15.


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Comments (11)

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  1. Neil says:

    ‘Small things can remain voracious and innocent’, but that doesn’t counter the argument that if the media is going to make a significant impact (it is questionable whether that is desirable), it really does have to have a large readership.

    The Sun won the general election in Scotland, and the UK – there is a chicken and egg question for you.

    The quote about small things is about little cliques, like Bella. This blog is fun, but it really isn’t going to disseminate information to the masses that causes any significant social change, whatsoever.

    I presume it doesn’t intend to be anything other than a social magazine for a left-wing clique that has a well-off, well-educated readership that is probably dwarfed by that of the Morning Star (yes, there really is a socialist newspaper available in your corner shop).

    1. Hi Neil, thanks for your snide ignorant comment. None of my argument suggests I want to speak to a clique nor anything about the demographics of this website or any other. Of course we want a mass audience and a wide reach. For your information the Morning Star has a circulation of 10.000 and a readership of 15,000. Bella regularly attracts four times that readership each day and was read by more than one million people in September last year.

      Don’t want the facts to interrupt your argument.

      1. Neil says:

        I stand corrected, and stop being rude. Sorry for stepping on your toes.

        1. You were the one being rude, not me.

          1. Neil says:

            Calling others “snide and ignorant” is rude. I wasn’t rude – I was speaking my mind without being rude. Obviously I trod on your bunion if you can’t take that. Grow up.

      2. Neil says:

        Maybe you would have preferred some stuff about the utopian dystopian dichotomy? I bet you don’t slag-off those comments.

  2. barakabe says:

    I’m not always a fan of analogy but I’ve always thought of capitalism-global corporatism as an externalization or institutionalization of the human ego ( & I don’t mean ego in any positive sense of the word or even a Freudian sense either)- my notion is closer to the Eastern traditions of Hinduism-Buddhism-Sufism: the ego is an illusion or a false self or as the Sufi’s say the ‘secondary self’. This secondary self is an adaptive complex of primitive drives such as greed, fear, conceit-vanity, power fixated etc that continually manipulates us ( some might say its our ‘natural’ state) without us noticing it most of the time. There are a number of reasons we never notice these forces; one is they have become mummified in the environment & we are lost inside a connection of reactions we mutually reinforce by participating in their operation; but one of the most significant reasons is that the human ego has evolved over millions of years & has brought us out of the seas, swamps, jungle, Savannah’s, caves & simultaneously driven all our progress & our destruction- it has achieved this through a capacity for environmental adaptation that is terrestrially unique & has brought the human race to its present remarkable evolutionary situation. Unfortunately this force of nature is a double edged sword that cuts both ways as this primitive reflex of atomized self-interest cannot maintain social cohesion, threatens human integration & by consequence efficient productivity. We need new models for a new world that looms on the horizon. Yet the ego driven power structures represented by petro-dollar driven corporatism of the big global elites want the opposite: they want & need to totalitarianism, centralization, monopolies, homogenization, to standardize & bastardize the human condition- whereas this new organic movement is about decentralization, diversity, plurality & freedom-democracy.
    As we move away from power structures we must become more decentred- to paraphrase Tolstoy ‘How do we live our lives?’ These new organic models seem to offer a free space for original local variations to develop out of their unique time & place- for a new paradigm to emerge & to increase human productivity we need to wrestle power from elite monopolies ( that too often are afraid of competition). For true competition is good as those at the top of their field use co-operation to improve their competitors & that in turn means they need to improve- but within the old ways of doing things there is a dark heart in the ego that suppresses this urge to co-operate & not to give a hand up ( due to the nature of exclusionary self-interest) & maybe this is the source of the will to power? The problem is conservative traditionally right wing models have encouraged a climate that best suits this sort of primitive thinking for the ego to flourish due to doctrines of extreme individualism- but equally we would never have struggled out of our swamps & caves if we were not social animals ( how would have such a physically frail creature have survived if not for the capacity for cooperation?)- & if we continue to allow these centralizing power elites frame the perception of human nature we want civilization to project we must realize that unregulated ego will eventually destroy everything humans have achieved- we fail to regulate this primitive evolutionary force at our planetary peril (it is mirrored in the financial sector’s unfettered greed & resistance to regulation). Even though the empirical evidence is overwhelming in terms ecological disaster, global warming, social inequality, mass poverty, third world starvation etc the ego rationalizes this evidence & justifies a failing system by means of its figureheads prejudicing its status due to its familiarity, self-limiting repetition, a fear of change-unfamiliar, order over freedom ( we know all these old establishment arguments from the referendum). Nevertheless the development of these diverse new democratic structures that subvert the old clotted power-fixated structures is evidence that spaces are developing for the blossoming of the co-operative decentred social connected capacities of human potential to finally emerge.

    1. Kenneth Coutts says:

      Indeed the conflict between Utopian and Dystopian views, the view being Dystopian centralisation is winning , only with a revised progressive political democracy , only the people can collectively change the top down control that has been creeping in and is spreading through our society , under the canopy of a collective fear generated by the totalitarian neoliberal corporate fascists.
      Cutting the head from the snake is the only way forward , it is a fight we must win .

      1. leavergirl says:

        Kenneth: Right sentiment, wrong analogy. The tiny early mammals did not fantasize about cutting the head off the dinosaur, they found hidden niches and bided their time. When the moment came, they were ready.

  3. willie says:

    Online media like Bella Caledonia is very well received.

    With a daily readership of something around 60,000 this confirms the level of demand for a journal like BC.

    So, let’s hope BC keep up the good work.

    Meanwhile the weapon of propaganda the BBC continues to force people to pay hundreds of millions.

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