We Need To Prepare Our Children For Formulatized Future, Part I
by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 04/24/2014
Back in the era of when broadcast television reigned supreme—say, early 1950s to late 1980s—most of the world-shaping ideas (world being coast-to-coast at the time) went out on three channels: ABC, CBS and NBC. The big commercial interests knew this, and General Electric bought NBC, Westinghouse (eventually) bought CBS—and they began programming… programming us, the public to live and buy by example. The formula was tight and brilliant: alternate between programming and commercials until you’ve been become commercially programmed to buy what they’re selling, to the delight of the shareholders.
The old broadcast model worked because of the scarcity of the communication channels for reaching people. CBS, NBC and ABC—only three channels. The FCC divvied out the resources, and they were what they were. Advertisers knew where to drop their penny. Plus, the marketers in no small part were the same people who owned the channels and manufactured the products through their parent companies. Tight end-to-end cradle to grave planning of our lives that worked very well with America’s excess workforce, industrial capacity and land that opened up after the public works projects of the New Deal and G.I.’s coming back after World War II. The nationalism stirred by Kennedy and reaching the Moon didn’t hurt either.
This “America, Inc.” operation started faltering in the late 80s with the rise of cable television and programming choice, on the tail of the painful Vietnam war, Nixon-era cynicism and general distrust of the media and government. On the televisions of middle class and wealthy households, four channels became forty. When digital cable hit, forty channels became four-hundred. And then with the Internet, YouTube, and mobile delivering it all into little TVs we carry in our pockets, the public’s ability to self-program became infinite. With the exception of a few companies that held the keys to this future, corporate programmers lost much of their power. With their stronghold on our hearts and minds broken, we were in a brief golden age of self-deterministic anarchy where new media moguls and tycoons were born. They are now jockeying to strengthen and solidify their positions in the new hyper-competitive landscape. You hear the likes of Intel co-founder Andy Grove saying only the paranoid survive, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos hoping that what he built be around for the rest of his life. In Warren Buffett terms, it is now time to increase the size of the economic moat protecting the castles. The first priority of those who “made it” is to fortify.
Right as game-changing new economic models are bursting onto the scene, the old guard is scrambling to protect the old models. Their moats are evaporating away, and they’re rushing to fill them with more water. You can feel the battles brewing as the telecom companies try to assert themselves by throttling Internet traffic under the auspices of fighting copyright piracy, but also going after services like Netflix that threaten old-school media business models. These companies call the Net Neutrality movement a violation of their rights to do with their private networks as they see fit. Why shouldn’t Comcast or Verizon be able to dial-down the bandwidth allocated to Netflix which they don’t make any extra money on, causing long load times and pauses during playback in order to enhance the appeal of their own offerings? Carried out to the extreme, this would let the telecom and cable companies to “gut the Internet”. As recently as yesterday, the FCC ruled that it will allow these companies to cut deals with the likes of Netflix to selectively not throttle their bandwidth—effectively giving the telecoms and cable companies a cut of Netflix revenues and turning them into just another cable channel that broadband providers can “choose to carry” or not.
But the writing is on the wall. The public has tasted infinite choice, and we are not going back. During the wild west days of the Web, much of that infinite choice was free. Few places was it as clear as in the music industry where it actually became EASIER to collect music by breaking the law and downloading MP3 files through peer-to-peer file sharing right on your desktop than going through inconvenient, expensive, and choice-limiting old outlets like Sam Goody and FYE. It finally took the brilliance of Steve Jobs and Apple to show that the experience of obeying the law could just be as audibly satisfying as breaking it, adding the slickness of Apple design, cover art, and a fair piecemeal price of $.99 per song. Charging on his iTunes horse, Steve Jobs showed the way for old-school media to battle their way into the future.
Enter the age of the three horsemen. You’ve heard them talked about and reinterpreted many times—sometimes with the likes of Samsung or Microsoft as the fourth horse, but the most likely ones are Apple, Google and Amazon. Each comes to the battle with critical but different core competencies, and the brains and momentum to segue that advantage into the turf of the others, thereby knitting themselves together into something bigger that roughly resembles those “America-Inc.” companies of yore (like GE and Westinghouse). They each offer media, advertising, services, hard goods, and now one is even offering food. How many of us are on Amazon Prime feeling that way of life gradually embracing and engulfing us with its beautiful subscribe and save autopilot ease? While Amazon took a admittedly circuitous route through hardgoods to become a horseman, they have a piece of the formula in place that’s going to be hard for Apple and Google to catch up with. But likewise, Apple’s tight ecosystem and hardware mastery will be hard to compete with, as is Google’s data-center, advertising and information dominance. Yet, each is in a position to turn themselves into the new World-Inc.
Can these companies re-formulatize our lives as in the days of unfragmented broadcast media? And if so, is this a utopian or dystopian future? In this future of disposable tablets, fashion-driven wearables and roll-on-the-wall TVs, does all technology become sufficiently advanced that it’s indistinguishable from magic—effectively rendering us powerless consumers undifferentiated from one another? Of course we’ll still need to make enough money to buy goods in this ecosystem, but of course with their education curriculums, reputation systems and market places, they will be able to raise is with marketable skills and find us regular gigs if we hustle. Is that so different from today?
If humanity doesn’t destroy itself or knock itself back into the dark ages, some variation on the above vision is likely to play out. Almost all technological devices are going to become disposable and non-serviceable. They won’t be worth the time it takes to open up to fix. Just 3D-print yourself a new one for a few reasonable credits so everyone on the ecosystem gets their fair cut. The Do-It-Yourself culture becomes fringe to the point of dying out. Those DIY energies get funneled into things you can know through intuition and short learnings, like gardening and knitting and other homey sills that could never scale-up to compete with and one day break your dependence on the ecosystem. We will be allowed our quaint cottage industries—so long as we sell our wares on their marketplaces
This is why an alternative education curriculum is necessary. I’m not even opposed to these futures. Unlike others who see this happening with their Luddite chicken little warnings, I actually kind of like an ecosystem that matches buyers and sellers of cottage industry wares with perfect efficiency. It’s a future where you really can pursue your dreams and your passions, so long as they are the least bit marketable in nature, because you can pool the entire world as your potential customer base. Things that would appear to require being there in person can often be delivered through Google Hangouts (or the monetized version called Helpouts). We just need to go into this future with our eyes open and the determination to teach our children why things the way they are, and what their true full range of choices in life are—whether or not they’re presented on a start-screen.