Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Of change, chaos and cobblers

Bob Garfield writes for Advertising Age, the primary trade publication of the ad biz, but his words below apply to more than just media. His new book is called The Chaos Scenario and it addresses exactly what this blog is about: rapid technological change and how it effects society and media (and, sometimes, ham radio! No, Bob does not deal with that in his book!). This is from a recent interview, and I could not have said it better:

It’s very difficult for people to move beyond the status quo. It’s very hard to get them to do anything more than the most incremental little changes. Incremental change is fine, and maybe that’s the only way to get large things done, but if you’re too slow in accomplishing them, the race is over before you get to the finish line.

We are not talking about an incremental technology step. We are talking about the difference between living on a planet where men did not make fire and now a planet where man does make fire, where there was no agriculture, now there is agriculture.

It is revolutionary and it has already changed human behavior on a grand scale. Industries are falling like dominos and the media are one of them. It’s not just a question of weathering a little transitory storm; it’s what happened when the Industrial Revolution overnight made cobblers unnecessary.




Anonymous said...

I think Bob Garfield is exaggerating, if not ust plain wrong.

Technological change isn't new, nor is "rapid" change a recent thing.

New technologies almost always follow a predictable path:

1) A new technology is invented.

2) Early forms of the technology appear on the market. They are expensive, somewhat difficult to use and limited in application. They are adopted by only a few folks. Whether the technology will ever be profitable is questionable.

3) Improvements in the technology bring down the price, widen the applications and make it easier to use. This usually happens in a series of steps, with various stages of the technology becoming old hat quickly.

4) More and more people adopt the technology as it becomes cheaper and easier to use. This is the period of rapid growth and acceptance, when huge profits can be made and lost.

5) The technology matures to the point that it is commonplace, and sales are mostly a matter of replacement rather than expansion.

Compare the growth of radio broadcasting in the 1920s and 1930s to the growth of the internet in the 1990s and 2000s, for example. Or when electric refrigerators replaced the icebox.

It's not at all difficult for people to "move beyond the status quo" *if* they have a reason to do so. That reason isn't always there.

Most modern people are so used to advertising hype and everything-old-is-new-again that they take some convincing.

Things like fire, agriculture and factory-made shoes didn't happen overnight. And we still have shoemakers, just not as many.

73 de Jim, N2EY

Don Keith N4KC said...

Jim, "rapid" is a relative term. What is happening in some areas is light-speed compared to others. If you still read a daily newspaper, watch the nightly network TV news, and get your entertainment solely from network TV shows and traditional terrestrial radio stations, you may not have noticed much change yet. But when your daily newspaper is no longer in your driveway each morning, the nightly network news is replaced with WHEEL OF FORTUNE, and your favorite radio stations have gone dark, you will know that there has been a sea change in how people get news, entertainment and, yes, ads. My generation (and I suspect yours is about the same) read less newspapers and magazines. We had TV. THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, LIFE, and LOOK went 'bye 'bye, replaced by niche, targeted mags. It has taken newspapers longer to die because they were so strongly entrenched, but their customers are dying each day. How many 30-year-olds get their news from their local daily?

Yes, we still have cobblers, but it is hardly an "industry." We will continue to have radio, TV and newspapers, too, but they will be ancillary to other means of delivering content that will be the real media "industry."

That is a massive change. Maybe there is a little hyperbole in the way Bob makes his case, but take it from somebody who lives it every day. There ain't much!


Don N4KC