There is currently a small ruckus in the in the blogosphere in Sweden around the low quality of blogs, around the herd mentality that often comes with a hot topic being discussed. The complaints are all too common, we hear them all the time, often put forward by representatives from so called old media that see their monopoly on organisation of information being challenged by, ohh my god, individuals! Equally often I hear people expressing fears that all communication in the future will be by IMs, by blogs, by wikis, by whatever webtool that is the current trend (or rather when traditional media picks up the trends). The problem is that the questions that often are asked and the subsequent responses are inherently wrong.
The major changes will not happen in the clash between different kinds of production and distribution models for media and information. There will traditional media (however changed from current model), there will be paper newspapers, and there will be many similarities to what the media landscape look today. The major changes will take place in areas that are affected by the new tools. Let me present an analogy from the car industry.
In the middle of the last century the car became standard for a big portion of the US households, the industry was thriving and the wings at the back of the cars became bigger by the minute. This was essentially a change in the transportation industry but people didn’t stop walking, they didn’t stop using the subway to go from downtown to uptown Manhattan, they didn’t stop using the bike. Yes, there was a change in how much they used those means of transportation but they did not disappear, i.e. the structure of the way we communicated and commuted changed but old ways were still around. When futurist predicted the future the main ideas around transportation was in how transportation itself would change (flying cars, moving sidewalks, the ideas were infinite in numbers). However, the real change was outside the transportation business itself.
Think for a minute how the car changed the entire structure on how to build cities. There is no coincidence that it was in the US where malls located outside the cities first emerged, malls you have to take a car to. This is a concept that now is adopted in many other countries throughout the world. This has profoundly changed the way people live, the very essence on how we choose to organise our lives. Could a company like IKEA, the world’s biggest furniture retail brand even exist without the car? Probably not in the shape we know it today.
Same thing goes for the phone. When introduced corporate managers and many alike considered the phone a waste of time. What would people do, chat all day and perform no work? Nota bene, this was in days before the rise of the call centres where people work with the sole purpose of chatting on the phone all day.
This is the approach we have to take when discussing how the new landscape of communication and value creation will affect our world. We have to take a step back and look on how these new technologies will change areas far away from the IT business itself because that is where the real impact will be felt. And the impact will be even greater than the impact of the car since IT today is interwoven in almost every part of life, no matter what we think of that. Going to a café, the music will probably be played of a computer filled with pirate MP3 songs, taking a trip in a car you are likely to be guided by data stored at some remote data centre in the Netherlands (if you use the TomTom that is), if you date regularly there is a good chance that at least some of the dates started out as an online flirt. IT is in the very fabric of life and the internet is only 5000 days old, imagine what will happen next!
If we constantly measure new phenomena against the old model we are very likely to miss the great opportunities that are out there to be captured in the future. However, even if we free ourselves from the constraints of the past we will make mistakes, we will make predictions that prove to be utterly incorrect but that is quite in order. Innovation and thinking new is a venture into the unknown and hence unpredictable but it is a path we have to walk if we want to have at least a chance to prosper tomorrow rather than thinking about those old glory days of yesterday.