Posts about change

‘Change’ is bullshit

I ended up voting for Barack Obama, but while he was in a race against Hillary Clinton his campaign slogan drove me to distraction. “Change we can believe in.” What change exactly?

This morning Joe Scarborough said the first debate of this campaign didn’t alter the situation in this election. He said this is still a race of the experienced candidate against the change candidate. Now Donald Trump=change.

Clinton is forever boxed into the position of running against “change.” Now it is not only Trump but also, ironically, Obama who corners her there because she wisely wants to run on and continue Obama’s legacy with his coalition; she can’t change too much. Still, she can address this problem by cataloging the changes she will make; there are many.

But “change” is the wrong word. “Change” is bullshit. “Change” is an empty word, a vague promise. Obama promised “change” and it was a vessel into which his supporters poured their dreams. The most progressive among them were disappointed in the early years of his administration because he did not quickly accomplish all they had wished for. I was not disappointed, for I had more realistic expectations of change.

The proper word is not “change” but “progress.” But that word has its own set of expectations and cooties thanks to the far left and right, respectively. So call it “improvement.” Hillary Clinton will work to improve health care,college costs, infrastructure, criminal justice, mental health, national security, the environment, taxation, campaign finance, the status of womenand minorities….

Donald Trump does not promise change. He promises regression, returning to some squandered glory of the hegemony his supporters have lost because of change they could not control, change they resent, change that shares what they think of as their jobs, power, and birthright with others, with outsiders. Trump is not promising to change. He is promising to stop change.

Of course, change is occurring without the intervention of any candidate. Change is the constant. Change brings us choices: opportunities and perils. That is what a leader must concern herself with.

Clinton is a realist. She is experienced. She has policies and plans. All those proper qualifications for the highest office in the land become handicaps in a media environment that values instead slogans, performance, conflict, entertainment, and personality over substance. “Make American great again.”

After Scarborough spoke this morning, Chuck Todd complained that after last night’s debate voters don’t know much more about the candidates’ policies. First, that’s wrong. Clinton tried to cram specific policy proposals into her few uninterrupted minutes and for the rest she gave her web address; plenty there. Trump refused to and could not be pushed to be specific about the plans he does not have. If voters do not know what each candidate will do and is capable of doing the fault lies at the feet of the media. It is our job to inform the public. The public is ill-informed. Donald Trump’s presence on that stage last night is the evidence. He promises nothing but change. And we let him get away with it.

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.


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.