How the breaking apart of traditional, rigid structures is creating a personalized, on-demand future and changing the everyday interactions of people, politics, and profit.
About this post
This post is based on a theory and a book outline I’ve been chipping away at since 2010. Since I’m probably going to be too busy to ever finish the full thing, I figured I would massively truncate and post it here so that it’s finally out in the world in some form. In the six years I’ve been thinking about this subject, it’s only become clearer with the advent of the on-demand economy, 3D printing etc. Please excuse the length!
In Silicon Valley we’ve used the term “Unbundling” to describe the phenomena of mobile apps breaking apart into multiple separate apps, each essentially providing more focused, single purpose features. Think of the Facebook app being separated into Facebook + Messenger.
I believe this Unbundling phenomena is happening almost universally across all aspects of life. It’s a meta-trend that has been happening for decades (or more) and will continue for decades to come. It’s a common process affecting many of the things happening in the world today. In fact most of the major disruptions we see (loss of traditional jobs, failing record companies, terrorism, divorce rates, the rise of fringe/underdog political candidates etc) are all, in at least some way, connected to this fundamental transition.
We're living in a recycled generation. Think about it. Much of what we do in the 21st century is recycling what has gone before.
Sure there are the obvious examples - positive examples - such as recycling paper and plastic. But I am talking about the recycling of ideas and culture.
There is now far more emphasis on people recycling (Retweeting, Reposting, Repeating) news than creating it. Social media makes us each story tellers, but a large percentage of the story we're telling is someone else's.
Movies are also being recycled. I'm going to go see Tron today. A recycled idea from 1982. In fact many of the movies that come out these days are adaptions, remakes, sequels or prequels. Recycled ideas.
I suspect that much of it has to do with information overload. In a world where there is so much information, two of the most powerful and interrelated mechanisms for getting Attention is social proximity and nostalgia.
Social networks use both to encourage us to read and share each other's status updates by feeding off our social bonds and our ego driven need to participate in a form of real-time nostalgia. How many of us have thought 'this is going to be awesome when I go back and read it in the future'.
The same is true for Movies. Movie studios have realized the surest way to get an audience into the theater is to bet on the older generation's nostalgic memory of the past and the younger generation's cult like respect for it.
I am not necessarily judging this as a negative phenomenon. I am just observing that it is one.
I worry though, will this generation be remembered for anything great of its own - especially when it comes to movies? Can you think of the last great original movie you saw that would last the test of time?
"...some of the darkest chapters in the history of my world involved the forced relocation of a small group of people to satisfy the demands of a large one..." Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek Insurrection
All the writeups I've seen about Avatar have focused on the timeframe it took to make it (something like 10 years), the cost (most expensive film ever made), the CGI (the most realistic CGI and motion capture ever), the 3D (yes you get to use those cool glasses), the fantastical imagination of James Cameron (the world presented is fully formed and utterly believable) or the theme of mother earth and symbiosis with the life around us.
In my mind, the film is not really about any of those things. It is in fact about what Jean-Luc Picard says in Insurrection and I have quoted at the top of this post.
It is about what all great works of art are about - the fallibility of the human condition.
Avatar is about a race of humanoids that could not be more alien from us and yet, by about half way through the film, it manages to completely convince us of their reality, their plight and their humanity.
The trick is so thoroughly executed that by the time SigourneyWeaver's character is brought to the tree to be saved (unsuccessfully), she looked thoroughly alien to me. The blue CGI creatures around her seemed more real, more noble and more sympathetic than her tiny pink body. She could have been a little green man.
The point, however, was not to demonstrate the power of CGI or storytelling to convince us of an unreality, but rather to show us something that is all too real in our world; An all too pervasive inability to understand how those we perceive as 'other', as 'aliens', as inhuman, are just as human as ourselves.
Most of the Human characters in Avatar were perfectly happy (at least for the most part) to force the re-location or destruction of these blue creatures for the acquisition of 'wealth' from the ground on which they lived. The way they rationalized this inhuman treatment was to label them 'savages' and later 'the enemy'.
The human characters could not understand how smashing their trees and destroying their homes - terrorizing them - could result in acts of rebellion and resistance. Acts of Terror.
Does this sound at all familiar to anyone? Are there any people in our world (who at first glance seem inferior or strange) that have been relocated, interfered with, oppressed, suppressed and generally toyed with for decades for the purposes of ensuring and 'securing' access to stuff in the ground - to oil?
Have those people become desperate? Have they fought back? Have they perpetrated acts of Terror? Have we perpetrated those acts in return? Has the cycle continued unabated with each side blaming the other?
Of course it's all too unpopular (or downright unpatriotic) to suggest that the violence taken against 'us' in the west is somehow justified. In fact I believe that no violence that is not in immediate self defense or in the defense of others is really justified at all. Not ours, not theirs.
Avatar didn't just manage to thoroughly convince me of the humanity of these blue CGI creators, it also showed in stark terms our ability to be inhuman to those who appear different from us. To justify killing by minimizing and demonizing the 'others' amongst us. To forget the acts of the recent past and justify the acts of the present and the future.
Avatar is a film that should go down in history as a feat of genius on every level of story telling and political commentary. Its deeper and much more profound message, however, like the message of the Matrix and other masterful works that balance popular culture, mass market appeal and important truths, will probably be lost on most movie going audiences.
It wont be lost on those in our world who seem Alien to us though. They probably won't see the movie, but they are no strangers to throwing stones at tanks, being crushed in the name of valuable resources and being so oppressed and desperate as to resort to extreme interpretations of religion and acts of violence.
I wonder what our excuse is when we use our religious views (both of faith and commerce) to justify killing them.
WARNING: In case it's not clear, this post is satire
The climate crisis argument has finally been debunked as fear mongering by tree huggers and polar bear lovers. These exposed email threads show the true nature of the forgery that has been perpetuated by these 'scientists' on an unsuspecting world. These few scientists discussing this random data set in some random out of context conversation have totally and rightly undermined all the years of debate and research. Of course, the visible aspects of change in our environment are just part of some cyclic, non-human generated climate change. It's normal! Pollution in the air, extreme droughts and floods, record breaking hurricanes and the death of entire ecosystems under the ocean is perfectly fine. We don't need to breathe, grow crops, live on dry land or have a food chain.
Also, the fact that our current energy 'solutions' are based on a resource that is about to run dry, located in a region of the world that hates us (in most cases for our 'energy protection' actions) is ideal also.
As we all now know, Climate Change is fake. Sure the precarious resource and geo-political struggle fossil fuels continues to place us in are clearly real but instead of investing in clean alternatives, we should continue to destroy and re-build nations half way around the world. That's a much cheaper and more productive alternative than investing in our own infrastructure and innovating our way out of the very real logistical and foreign-policy problems we've created for ourselves.
Speaking of cost, we can't afford to save the planet or invest in our future. That could hurt the economy and we can't risk that. We can just switch planets or go back in time when the planet dies. At least the economy will be safe though. There's no possible way that comparing the needs of the economy to the whole planet is a false dichotomy. Sure, the economy depends on the fact that our world remains as it is today - No mass migrations due to new extreme climates. No real shortage of energy. No resulting wars (well, not too many anyway). Land to grow things. The status quo is the most likely future scenario right?
Of course if any of those things happen then our economy, and the world as we know it, will be over. Maybe we can switch to trading Water. At least you can drink water! Have you tried drinking money? Yuk! I'm so glad that climate change is now finally debunked.
In the mean time, we get to keep spending money on killing people. It makes for better TV and it's easier to understand. You fire the missile, something blows up. Easy.
Causality between dirty, finite energy and climate change, health and war are way more boring to think about. More important, but definitely more boring. I'd much rather watch Fox News than the West Wing after all.
I'm so glad that debate is over - back to more important things like gay marriage and keeping marijuana illegal. Those things really affect my life.
Lately a number of my friends seem to be having great wins and making their mark on the industry in awesome ways.
When I first moved out to Silicon Valley (starting with a short trip in 2006) I already knew (by reputation) many of the names and personalities that made up the ecosystem. I read them on blogs, listened to them on podcasts and generally admired their work and learned from their ideas.
Once coming out here, I got to know many of them personally. Some let me down, others surprised me with their generosity and still others became wonderful friends.
I'd like to highlight just a couple of those today because they've been on my mind.
Jeremiah Owyang (and his new partners Deb Schultz & Charlene Li) has/have always struck me as one of the hardest working and smartest people in the valley.
Most recently I've had the pleasure to get to know Jeremiah on a personal level but had never actually worked with him 1:1 on anything serious before.
That changed last week when we sat down for a real 'business meeting'. He blew my mind. That doesn't happen often. His blog posts only show a fraction of the mans thinking. Not only does he think 5 steps ahead, he manages to find a way to package it on his blog in a way that even laymen can understand.
I am so happy for his collaboration at Altimeter. Jeremiah, Debs and Charlene are the nicest people and are all wicked smart.
Those that have been around me in the last 12 months have probably heard me talk about the need for an Altimeter group style firm and I'm glad that they are the ones to pull it off. They've done it with grace, style and stunning execution.
Can't wait to see what they do next.
Stephanie Agrestais another of the people that I got to know as a friend once moving out here. For some reason and on some level we connected as kindred spirits who love to smile.
I've always felt like she had an undeserved level of faith and affection for me - but I accepted it gladly because it meant she wanted to hang out!
She too has recently made a move that not only befits her stature as a connector and thinker, but also rewards her kind spirit and positive attitude.
She gave me her new card at her birthday the other day - it says EVP of Social Media, Global - Porter Novelli (or something like that hah). EVP, Global, Porter Novelli. Are you serious!?
This is such wonderful news for our community because it means that someone who not only gets it, but loves it and is one of us, is in a position to help the brands we all know and love.
These are just two of my friends who have gotten what they deserve lately - in the best meaning of the phrase possible.
If I can help any of you reading this to achieve your goals, please let me know. This whole ecosystem, worldwide, is built on pay-it-forward. And I have a lot to pay forward.
As many of you know - I have been visiting in the US now since the end of January (with a short stint in Europe in the middle). I am loving it. Particularly here in San Francisco and the Bay Area specifically. It's an amazing place where amazing things are getting done every day.
But I have made an observation in my travels that I thought I would write about today.
American Politics is a fascinating spectacle. And I don't just mean the politics of government, but the politics of business, community and culture as well. These patterns, trends and reactions are consistent in all sorts of other political interactions here.
The themes go something like this.
If you have been doing something for a long time and talk about very practical, operational things, then you must be good at whatever you do. You typically talk about being against something than for something else.
If you are new to the process and/or attract large crowds of new people, then you are interesting and inspirational but you surely can't have any substance to your message. You typically talk about being for something rather than against something else.
These two positions are always seen as polar opposites. Many people seem to refuse the idea that someone who is new can also have substance. Or something that is experienced may actually need new blood and new ideas.
It's a politics that fights not the ideas on their merits, but the way those ideas are derived, or who proposes them.
There's also a tendency to focus on what 'has worked' rather than what 'could work' - or what has worked in other organizations or other structures outside the immediate scope of inquiry.
Universal Health care for example. Surely the government can't look after our health right? They couldn't even look after the victims of Katrina. Of course, if we look beyond the borders of the United States it's clear that every other 1st world country does have Healthcare backed by the federal government and it works well to create a safety net for their people. It's a simple observation that allows the conversation to move beyond 'could it work' to 'how could we make it work for us'.
There's often a lack of subtlety - a sense that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than taking the good and building on it. Making what is work for us.
As I said, I love this country and my experience here has been amazing - I hope it continues in fact. But as always, I will continue to look for patterns and see if they can be improved. At least in my little corner of the world.
Some of this also comes down to an idea I posted on Twitter the other day - I think it explains some of my thinking in this area.
"We need to extend the time frame inside which we evaluate what is in our best interest"
Everyone acts in their best interest. It's inevitable and irrefutable. But if you open the window from 1 month or 1 year to 5 or 10 years you realize that what's actually in our personal best interest is actually in the best interest of many other people too.
Anthill is the leading entrepreneurial magazine in Australia. They have released a list of the top 30 entrepreneurs under 30. Somehow, someone hacked the list and added my name!
From the magazine:
They collectively turnover hundreds of millions of dollars each year, yet some are barely out of university. They are proud to be Australian but see their home-grown success as little more than a stepping stone. They have never known serious recession, political instability or significant global conflict, yet they are better educated and better informed than new business owners of any generation preceding them. Meet the future of business in Australia.
Company/Role: Faraday Media
At 26, Chris Saad is one of Australia’s most impressive young web entrepreneurs. His theory and practice around web standards – specifically “DataPortability” and “Attention Management” – have gained significant traction and are set to have a profound impact on the evolution of media in the digital age. Saad has co-founded several web-related companies and organisations, most prominently Faraday Media in 2006, of which he is CEO. Faraday Media is developing Particls, a technology that learns user habit and taste and delivers relevant information to them via news crawler, SMS, email, flash visualisations, etc. He also co-founded the Media 2.0 Workgroup with 14 industry “commentators, agitators and innovators”. There’s no shortage of ideas or energy in this digitally-minded entrepreneur. One to watch in the years to come.
Of course, singling out 30 'front men' does not really do justice to the real people who work tirelessly to make successful business happen. People like my business partner and co-founder who actually builds our Faraday Media products Ashley Angell. Like our investors, our team, our advisors and supporters who make everything possible.
To all of them and to our customers and partners - thank you for making this sort of thing possible.
I also look forward to clicking through to the other profiles and learning more about the other people listed - seems like a great group of Aussies!
In the past few months I have been reminded by many that hoping for a thing does not make it true. Watching the US Presidential Election I have heard the same theme emerge as Hilliary Clinton attempts to question Barack Obama's ability to convert lofty and eloquent speeches into real change. I even posted a Seesmic video about it recently.
The question I have, though, is if hope does not make something happen, then what does?
Doesn't all action involve hope? Is not hope a key ingredient for change?
Before one can achieve a thing, they must first imagine it. Before they act on their imagining they must first dare to hope that they could actually have some impact on the outcome.
Even decisions made based on fear involve a hope to avoid that which we fear.
Hope is a powerful driving force. It enables us to act. Without hope, we are often paralyzed.
Most people I talk to who 'wish' they could do something better, or more ambitious, have a common refrain. They dare not hope that their more lofty goals are attainable. They therefore do not act.
Imagine if you could gather a large enough group of people to hope for the same outcome. If you had the right mix of participants and the right critical mass, is there anything that hope, followed by action, can not achieve?
Criticizing hope is actually a thinly veiled claim of naivety or unjustified idealism. If one's hopes are too big, too ambitious or too lofty, then surely they must be too naive to understand the complexity of the issue and the magnitude of the challenge ahead.
Maybe that's true. Maybe those who start with hope and push for change have not yet been sufficiently jaded by a broken system or violent resistance to their ideas.
Maybe, though, if those idealistic and naive people (if in fact they are those things) can somehow encourage others to hope, and then still others; maybe, just maybe, hope will turn into action, and action will turn into real change.
To paraphrase the West Wing... "Do you think a small group of dedicated people can change the world" "Of course, it's the only thing that ever has".
Hope is not empty. It can never be false. Hope, well expressed and shared, is the beginning of something new.
Happy new year to everyone!
Random thoughts for 1.1.08.
I got asked for my resume the other day and it occurred to me that I've never actually ever made one for myself. People usually just know who I am or come to me through word-of-mouth. More recently, I figured my LinkedIn profile provided plenty of resume style information for anyone who was interested.
So my question is, do you have a resume? What are your thoughts on resumes in a Media 2.0 world? Are our digital footprints and LinkedIn profile pages enough information for Resume 2.0?
I also deal with some of these questions in my book outline.
I think both formats suck. DVDs and anything resembling a DVD is a hoax played by the studios so that people can 'own their own video store'. What's the point? The number of times you would watch the DVDs cannot justify the cost. And if everyone has a video store what's the point? Whatever format you choose to embrace and collect will be obsolete in a few years anyway.
But all those reasons against owning your own DVD style collection pale in comparison to the fact that all this content should be streamed from the net anyway - we should all have access to all content all the time. Anything short of that is a joke on consumers.
This is a fascinating talk about the way liberals and conservatives think. More broadly it's an interesting discussion about how perceptions and points of view as 'frameworks' can change the way people make decisions and establish their idea of morality and decision making.
GeorgeLakoff on Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think
I'm still obsessed with Firefly/Serenity. Sorry - but I am.
This review is one of the best ones I've read. It was written by a distinguished Sci-fi writer. Check it out. It brings back so many memories. I hope to have an experience like seeing that movie for the first time again some day.
I love this bit:
"I can enjoy the first Matrix and see it as a kind of magic sci-fi, but recognize that in the end, it's all about the mystical quasi-religious ideas and the special effects, and not about human beings at all.
Because for me, a great film -- sci-fi or otherwise -- comes down to relationships and moral decisions. How people are with each other, how they build communities, what they sacrifice for the sake of others, what they mean when they think of a decision as right vs. wrong."
Until now, Stephen Colbert's amazing and ingenious use of the net and the growing participant culture to promote his show has been a beautiful thing to watch. But it was never beyond my imagination. If I were in his place I'd be doing the same thing.
But I just watched the intro to the Colbert Report episode 08.21.2006 and his intro took it over the edge for me. By itself maybe it was just another funny/clever comment, but when added to the sum total of Wikipedia jokes, Green screen antics and his other 'buzz' generating stunts, you get a very beautiful picture.
His intro comment was "Could being a Neilson family kill you? Watch the entire show to find out".
Genius. Subtle, relevant, clever and could even have a direct affect on his rating for the night.
I love that guy so much - in a straight, non-sexual way of course.
He is climbing fast to join my other masters:
Ronald D. Moore
And all the people leading the charge with Current.TV (including Al Gore)
J.J. Abrams might be on the list soon, depending on what he does with Star Trek - but right now he is a little too disconnected for my taste.
I think Colbert, however, should be the new member of the 'Oh my god, you're changing traditional media by being a legend' club.
In Episode 08.23.2006 he even goes on to talk about the fragmentation of media experiences due to the explosion of choices going so far as to bring a band on that uses YouTube as its primary promotion vehicle. I think he understands the principal of 'Audiences of One' better than most traditional media personalities.
I am very excited. Lost starts again in October and the poster looks great. Strange that Michael and Walt are not in it - I guess they really have left the island. I can't wait to see what J.J does with Star Trek. See the poster here.
Also Prison Break just started. The first ep was a bit ordinary though. Although interesting that they killed that character (won't spoil it for you) and also I don't know if anyone else noticed but the Vice President's brother is now a different actor. It used to be Phlox from Enterprise (John Billingsly or whatever) and now it is someone else. Weird!