On Scale versus Size
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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