Posts about change

Great Restructuring III: The war over change

The emerging war we’re seeing now is over change. I’m not talking about the post-9/11 resurgence of debate over Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations – though that’s certainly a front in this war. Instead, I’m talking about the clash over change within civilizations, the attempt by some to forestall its inevitability, and their attacks on those who enable, predict, and embrace change as if any of those actions cause change. It’s actually rather fatuous to set up a dispute between those who want and don’t want change, those who think change is good or bad. Change is inexorable. The question is not what you think about it but what you do about it.

I’m seeing this personally as attacks on me get more emotional for merely predicting the obvious: the fall of newspapers. Predicting it doesn’t cause it, but sometimes you’d think that’s the case. There’s a lot of attempted messenger murder going on.

I see it in a boggling dispatch from Brigadoon in today’s Observer (the Guardian in Sunday suit) in which Henry Porter goes so far over the edge to liken Google to “something that is delinquent and sociopathic, perhaps the character of a nightmarish 11-year-old,” calling it a moral menace. “Despite its diversification, Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time.” He doesn’t want to see that in the link economy, Google does precisely the opposite: adding value with its links. If you think those links are so awful, then reject them.

Frighteningly, that’s what’s almost being suggested in another quarter of the Guardian (where, full disclosure, I write, consult, and podcast). But true to my American ways, I must issue my declaration of independence from this line of thinking: “The Guardian Media Group has asked the Government to examine Google News and other content aggregators, claiming they contribute nothing to British journalism.” Pass the aspirin. This from the same organization that wants its content in the fabric of the web via its API – the ultimate expression of the link economy and of thinking distributed, thinking like Google, that is? (As with all thing media in the UK, this has something to do with the BBC.)

The Guardian should know that something is amiss when it finds itself in harmony with the commander of the death star, Rupert Murdoch. To whom I’ll say, fine, cut yourself off from Google search and see how long that hunger strike lasts. The assumption here is that Google owes them something because it caused change and change is hurting them. No, Google exploited change. It did what these publishers should have done. They didn’t. They’re losing and they’re looking for someone to blame – other than themselves.

But let’s move – please – beyond newspapers and Google. Look at Europe last week, at the silly if larcenous protestors and their futile fight against globalism – we’re all connected now; that’s the essence of our change – and their insipid signs: screw the consumer, death to capitalism, end currency.

Robert Kagan wrote in The Washington Post Friday that Obama and the Americans represent too much change in Europe.

“They don’t want more excitement. . . . The creative destruction of the business-oriented political economies of the Anglo-Americans is too violent and unstable, too brutal and unpredictable. Better to regulate more tightly the international capitalists who can cause havoc through their inventiveness. Better to be less rich than less secure.

Americans are creators of turmoil. Europeans see them the way the ancient Greeks saw the Athenians, as “incapable of either living a quiet life themselves or of allowing anyone else to do so.”

Surely, they wish, they can legislate and regulate the change away.

To me, the lesson of our current turmoil is that change is inevitable – indeed, I argued here and here that it is millennial shift we are experiencing, our passage to a new age – and that resisting that change, trying to delay or protect against it, is what is leading to the death of great swaths of the newspaper, music, auto, and retail industries and their imminent replacements by new players who understood, embraced, and exploited change. There’s the difference. There’s the war. Rather than complaining about and resisting change, the wise course seems clear:

1. Recognize the inevitability of this change.
2. Try to understand it. (That’s why I wrote the book and think another may be in order.)
3. Rush toward the change; seek it out, embrace it.
4. Find the opportunities in the change and exploit them.
5. Recognize, too, the turmoil, uncertainty, and risk of the change and try to soften the impact but don’t let that stop you from 1-4.

Change happens

Change is inevitable. Change is hard. Change is good. Change is rarely recognized in time. Change is life. That’s how we should be looking at what is happening to journalism today – not necessariliy as a plight, a conspiracy, a tragedy, a surprise but more as the inevitable change that was not recognized and exploited by some soon enough (for their own good).

That’s what Clay Shirky writes about in a wonderful post inspired by Tribune Company’s bankruptcy. It’s what Virginia Heffernan wrote about in her weekend Times Magazine column (which I had to read a few times to see the simplicity of her message about change). It’s also what I came away thinking about from a conference at near Oxford last week, where I wondered whether press barons, like the ennobled land barons who built Ditchley, are now out of their era. (I’ll post my Guardian column on the thought and the event Monday.)

* * *

Witnessing the biggest fall yet of a newspaper giant – in Tribune Company’s pathetic bankruptcy – Clay was inspired to look back at a post he wrote in 1995, a year after the birth of the commercial browser, called Help, the Price of Information Has Fallen, and It Can’t Get Up. Thirteen years ago – plenty of time to remake the news industry – Clay saw the change coming.

The price of information has not only gone into free fall in the last few years, it is still in free fall now, it will continue to fall long before it hits bottom, and when it does whole categories of currently lucrative businesses will be either transfigured unrecognizably or completely wiped out, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

That’s what he wrote then. And now:

[A] dozen years ago, a kid who’d only just had his brains blown via TCP/IP nevertheless understood that the newspaper business was screwed, not because this was a sophisticated conclusion, but because it was obvious.

Google, eBay, craigslist, none of those things existed when I wrote that piece; I was extrapolating from Lycos and it was still apparent what was going to happen. It didn’t take much vision to figure out that unlimited perfect copyability, with global reach and at zero marginal cost, was slowly transforming the printing press into a latter-day steam engine.

And once that became obvious, we said so, over and over again, all the time. We said it in public, we said it in private. We said it when newspapers hired us as designers, we said it when we were brought in as consultants, we said it for free. We were some tiresome motherfuckers with all our talk about the end of news on paper. And you know what? The people who made their living from printing the news listened, and then decided not to believe us.

So I’m calling bullshit on the Rosenbaum thesis, because no one has been “caught up in this great upheaval.”

[When anybody attacks me on the playground again, I’m going tell them that Clay’s my (blog) brother and he’s bigger, tougher, and smarter than them and their brothers.]

Clay sets blame:

By the turn of the century, anyone who didn’t understand that the business model for newspapers was a wasting asset was caught up in nothing other than willful ignorance, so secure in their faith in the permanence of their business that they assumed that those glaciers would politely swerve at the last minute, which minute is looking increasingly like now.

* * *

Virginia is hardly the tiresome motherfucker. In her piece, she genteelly surveys the change in media and then advises her mature, professional colleagues to imagine they are 19 again…

…spending a day on Twitter or following a recipe from a Mark Bittman video played on a refrigerator that automatically senses what ingredients are missing and texts an order to the grocery store (it will soon exist!). Then they should think about what content suits these new modes of distribution and could evolve in tandem with them. For old-media types, mental flexibility could be the No. 1 happiness secret we have been missing.

Change is happy.

* * *

Ditchley struck me as an all-too-apt metaphor for change. Here were editors and publishers – and both breeds turned academics – plus people in and out of government power worrying about democracy in the time of change in media and journalism. They were in an age-old estate that did not or could not keep up with the times but whose value is preserved today and put to good use. Is that what journalism will become: a relic, a museum, a memory? No, only journalism as it was. The journalism that changes will live on, carrying its values and eternal verities into the future.

Change is necessary.

* * *

Virginia is right to celebrate change. Clay is right to blame those who resisted it, because that informs the present and the future. If we act as if change just happens upon us – surprise! – in a sudden upheaval, then we miss its continuing flow and its lessons and the opportunity to keep up with it. That was what I was saying that led to the assassination attempt Clay references: All of us related to journalism must accept responsibility for and learn from the past if we have any hope of being part of the future (or others will see the opportunity, as they are). Then we learn Virginia’s lesson, which is just the lesson we try to teach now in journalism school.

The discussion at Ditchley turned around business models and the question of whether there is a market demand – and a looming market failure – for quality journalism. I believe there is a demand, but then I’m a cockeyed American optimist and obnoxious internet populist.

Market failure? Well, that depends on how one defines the market and its players. Did the public fail journalism? No. (Many would say it’s just the opposite but I’ll leave that to another day.) Is technology killing journalism, making it impossible to practice, what with craigslist and Google and Digg and the other characters in this game of Clue? No. Technology is enabling journalism to grow and improve in countless ways. What’s mortally wounded is old journalism and old models. There’s a market failure now in newspaper companies, not in journalism. They’re not the same thing.

Journalism isn’t dying. Yes, Virginia, it’s changing.

Ch-ch-ch-ch

I missed this brilliant video remix about ch-ch-ch-changes by Hugh Atkin when it went up two weeks ago.

(Via Bill Kinnon)

DLD: Change

The first panel is filled with old titans — Hubert Burda, Joseph Vardi, Martin Sorrell, Richard Wurman, Joe Schoendorf with moderator David Kirkpatrick — and it is good to hear them embrace change and optimism about its impact.

Schoendorf says that soon there will be more video cameras on earth than people. Burda talks about all the ways people have to broadcast that video. At this moment, Jason Calacanis is here trying to do so from his cell phone.
Right now, Jason Ca

Sorrell is worried. He’s not worried about recession; he says we shouldn’t fret about that until at least 2009. He is worried about the fate of Western Europe (though he’s rooting for the conservative leaders Merkel and Sarkozy to succeed); this is why he’s betting WPP’s fate on Asia. If he were 25 and from Western Europe, he says, he’d leave. He’s worried about some clever PhD inventing the next company, the next Google, but he’s worried that won’t be in Palo Alto but will be in Bangalore. Burda adds that media is not just content but is also software — “We still believe that a website with 40 editors is better than a web site with 20 editors” and we don’t pay enough attention to the software, he says. So he worried that European PhDs don’t invent algorithms. (It’s refreshing for me, an American, to hear so much discussion of Europe; American conferences are always so American-centric.)

Asked, though about the U.S. — and whether we’re headed down — Sorrell says it is always a mistake to underestimate Americans. He says that years ago, we thought Japan would dominate but “post-Reagan” America rose. We know what kind of leaders he likes. “Don’t underestimate the resourcefulness of Americans and their entrepreneurial culture,” he says.

Sorrell talks about the N11, the next countries after China, India, and the usual crowd. I agree: I wonder whether we’ll see a China bubble because everybody but everybody is betting futures on it and I doubt — given their amoral economy that poisons their people, American customers and pets, and their environment — whether they are ready for the investment.

Is Google too powerful? Burda responds that he was on a ski lift and asked the trainer how his business is. Great, the long-haired guy says. Why? Google. Right: more optimism about change. Google enables businesses. “Google has discovered millions and millions of new customers.” Amen. “If you sell ad pages two years from now you will make a long face. But you have to sell around the brand and around the brand will be very interesting opportunities for platforming.” Schoendorf says Google does not have a commanding market share of global advertising (a bit of a red herring; you can’t say that about the US and UK and Europe) so it is not a threat.

Sexism, racism, cynicism & whining about Hillary

Hillary Clinton won in New Hampshire. It’s as simple as that, right? No, not if you listen to the narratives around her victory in the media, where they continue to root against her.

The sexist narrative comes, shockingly, from New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who argues that Clinton won because, after the bully boys slapped her around on Saturday’s debate and her eyes welled up, women gave her pity votes: “But for one moment, women knew just how Hillary felt, and they gave her a sympathy vote. It wasn’t a long-term commitment, just a brief strike by the sisters against their overscheduled world.”

That’s a sexist insult to both Clinton and her voters. It says that women are emotional and not rational and that they’d throw away their votes and their country over a moment of reality-show drama. Sister, for shame.

The racist narrative, far more shocking, comes in the Times from pollster Andrew Kohut, apologist for his obviously incompetent profession, who argues that the head-counters and the pundits all predicted the vote wrong because poor, white voters — Yankee crackers — left to their own devices in private polling booths would not vote for a black man: “But gender and age patterns tend not to be as confounding to pollsters as race, which to my mind was a key reason the polls got New Hampshire so wrong. Poorer, less well-educated white people refuse surveys more often than affluent, better-educated whites. Polls generally adjust their samples for this tendency. But here’s the problem: these whites who do not respond to surveys tend to have more unfavorable views of blacks than respondents who do the interviews.” In short: Clinton got the trailer trash vote and Obama didn’t.

So what that says is that Clinton’s resurgence is a victory for racism. What an insult that is to her and to her voters and to the nation. That devalues and corrupts her victory.

The whining comes from the press, who complain that the Clinton campaign wasn’t as nice to them as the Obama campaign. As a fellow journalist, I suppose I should be sympathetic to them, but I’m not. That’s inside baseball. Its their job to get the story; that’s what they’re paid to do. What difference should it make to the voters and the fate of the nation that they don’t like a candidate’s flacks? I’ve seen this narrative all over in the last few weeks. The most convenient example comes from the UK, where the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden moans and mewls: “The Hillary Clinton staff excluded all foreign press from their “victory” celebration. . . . Contrast that with the Obama staff. Senior aides chatting away to big shot and small fry reporters alike. Credentials and access to as many reporters and members of the public who wanted it. Throughout the Iowa campaign, Obama volunteers would thank us for coming, accompany us to the correct entrance if we asked the way. Clinton staffers treated us as an inconvenience at best and at worst like a bad smell. As this exchange was taking place, an American reporter I know came over to us and said: “Get used to it – this is what the next eight years could be like.” Except that after tonight’s result it looks like we won’t have to get used to it after all.” And why should we care?

That is — or should be considered — an insult to journalists, who should be able to exclude their inconvenience and annoyance from their stories. But it makes one wonder whether they did.

None of these narratives says that voters voted for Clinton because they thought about it, because they are intelligent, because they cared for the country, because they agreed with her about issues, because they thought she could deal with the economy — our No. 1 issue, say the pollsters, and the one Clinton attacked most aggressively in the last debate before the New Hampshire primary. No, there has to be some reason other than those for voting for Clinton.

Now to the cynical narrative: change. Inspired by a Max Kalehof comment in my post here, I created this Blogpulse chart showing the frequency of the words “change”, “Obama”, and “Edwards” in the blogosphere in the last six months. Note the synchronous rise: the moment in late October when Obama, especially, harped on the word and the blogosphere followed.

change0108.png

I went to the record on YouTube to see when this change for “change” visibly and aggressively entered Obama’s campaign. Note that this video from September had no “change” signs:

But this video from October had the new “change” signage on the podium but not in the audience:

Now look at the Oprah rally in December. By then, the “change” narrative was fully in place — clearly tested and approved — and all the signs in the crowd are new from the printer. All of them scream “change”:

I’m coming to think that “change” is more than an empty word. This movement to “change” is looking more and more like a cynical act. It is an effort to pander to an audience — the young voters, the media say — with a simple, shallow idea, as if that should be enough to sway them. To say that they would is to insult them. It says that they buy candidates like they buy deodorant.

I spoke with a reporter tonight who’s writing a story on what brought out young people for Obama in Iowa and New Hampshire and she is hearing that they are seeing through “change” and making their judgments on issues. I believe that women, white voters, black voters, and young voters do likewise. Not to believe that is to dismiss their opinions and their votes.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

There are some good and meaty comments about the emptiness of Barack Obama’s change rhetoric at Comment is Free, where I crossposted my remarks from below, and also on Eamonn Fitzgerald’s blog. First, Eamonn:

The Austrian novelist Robert Musil began writing his masterpiece The Man without Qualities (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) in 1921 and was still working on it when he died in 1942. The three-book work is set in a country called Kakania, a parody of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the story includes a patriotic movement called Parallel Action, which is devoted to the “redemptive idea”. The leaders of the movement evoke it constantly in the vaguest terms because they have no idea what it means or how it might be applied. One of the group’s most ridiculous figures is General Stumm, a man who has almost no experience with ideas. Despite this drawback, he is determined to discover the “redemptive idea” before anyone else, and with the utmost efficiency. Says Stumm: “It turns out that there are lots of great ideas, but only one of them can be the greatest — that’s only logical, isn’t it? — so it’s a matter of putting them in order.”

In his excellent essay “Exhuming Robert Musil”, Ted Gioia says that the protagonist Ulrich “… changes his ideas with the ease of an actor learning a new role. He is prone to making sweeping statements, such as: ‘In times to come, when more is known, the word ‘destiny’ will probably have acquired a statistical meaning.’ His eloquence and ability to turn a phrase are stunning, yet his ideas never cohere into a philosophy or a belief system. They are as ephemeral as a passing storm.”

Is the mantra of “change” the “redemptive idea” of our times? Jeff Jarvis now hates the word.

From Comment is Free, Ebert says:

The word means exactly nothing. Every tinpot workplace has a ‘change programme’ with a ‘change director’ and a ‘change manager’… everyone has to ‘embrace change’ and ‘show a commitment to change’. Nothing changes but the organisation often gets ‘restructured’, putting any real work back for six months while those who have still got jobs (which they have had to re-apply for) get used to the new structure. The word seems to have crept in since the fall of the Soviet Union to give the illusion that capitalism is ‘going forward’ (another empty useless expression).

Polygram says:

Obama is a fantastic example of the hollow man, the tabula rosa on which the campaign consultants can write whatever script they wish, and Obama, with no idea what the hell it means, will deliver it in just that kitsch and florid way so beloved in American campaign rhetoric.

Yesterday says:

I worked in a place where a ‘change director’ was appointed who had come from a deadbeat job at a bank. We called him the ‘small change director’. ‘Embracing change’ always made me think of Alcoholics Anonymous and a lot of the training techniques seem to have come from that body.

Christopherhawtree:

The word “change” is of course always on the lips of Gordon Brown. But the past decade has shown that “change” can simply mean misdirected busyness; apparent change is in fact stasis. Real change is not announced but happens as a result of more complex social and artistic forces than any such proclamations can engender.

Chewtoy:

If they’re not referring to the Buddhist and quantum theory notion that all matter is in constant flux, then surely they must mean by “change” that they’ll change to a totally different story once they get elected.

Edwardrice:

“What is most important in the age of Change is not change itself but continuity in change and change in continuity”
(The Collected Thoughts of Comrade Brown) – Private Eye

Giuseppeh:

t’s all about subconscious associations. By saying the word enough and having it on as many banners surrounding the candidate, each of them hope to become that brand.

Of course it would be great if we lived in an adult world in which issues were discussed, candidates gave us their specific points of view on each and every major issue facing our world and people listened and analysed.

Of course it would be great if the advertising men didn’t dominate the political stage as they dominate the commercial stage in our world, peddling people like honda cars.

But we live in this world and people do respond to ridiculously simple subconscious messages, people are like five-year-olds asking their mum for the latest transformer toy for christmas because they saw it in the adverts between a postman pat cartoon.

We live in this idiotic world, in which people are just going to get dissappointed later on, like the kid who gets bored with his new, flashy transformer toy after five minutes and then realises christmas doesn’t come every day.

Change: The emptiest word in politics

I’m sick of hearing the word “change.” Last night, during the Democratic debate in New Hampshire, we heard it 90 times. Change, change, change. Blah, blah, blah. It’s an utterly empty word. Meaningless. The worst of political rhetoric. The worst of political bullshit. Pure spin. Cynical marketing. Juvenile pandering. ‘I’m change.’ “No, I’m change.’ ‘Are not.’ ‘Am, too.’ Nya, nya, nya.

Oh, just shut up and do something. Or at least say something. And don’t say “hope,” either. Say something about the economy (note that on Facebook — which is overwhelmingly and disproportionately in Obama’s camp — the users wanted to hear a lot more about that). And health care. And education. And technology. And Iraq. And energy. And the environment. Or just tell us what change means.

glassplate.jpgGod bless Charlie Gibson last night — the best moderator on any debate so far, I’d say — who pointed to the emptiness of change when Barack Obama and John Edwards bragged about doing in those evil lobbyists and stopping them from corrupting democracy by buying legislators meals. Charlie pointed out that the only change in the rule is that they can’t buy lawmakers meals while sitting down. Here’s the solution to that: a one-handed a plate-and-glass holder.

And the truth is that we don’t really like change all that much. Corporations, universities, governments, and marriages are built around avoiding change. We fear change.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s plenty we should be changing, starting with this primary system that is drowning us in rhetoric and advertising and attacks, not to mention undue influence given to the ministates of Iowa and New Hampshire (I say we should hold a national primary no earlier than July). We need to get health care. We need a broadband policy. We need an energy policy. We need so much. It’s not change. It’s the work of government.

Here’s a cloud — and what an appropriate metaphor that is — from the transcript of last night’s Democratic debate (thanks to Tagcrowd). I suppose I should take comfort in the fact that “think” is bigger than “change.”

created at TagCrowd.com