Friday, September 25, 2009

the individualist

For my grad communications class I've been reading The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman, and while I'm reluctant to jump on the number-one-best-selling bandwagon — either from lingering post-pubescent nonconformism or my own, individual brand of neurosis (did you catch the irony?) — I have to admit its insight.

The crux, so far as I can discern about half way through, is that technological changes and standardization have broken down the "practical constraints" that once held people back from engaging in more efficient practices, i.e. collaboration, outsourcing, content production, etc. More importantly from my perspective, it provides a pretty comprehensive explanation of how the world is changing re: empowering individuals.

Friedman breaks it down like this: The human world has gone through stages in which various entities maintain control. So far as modern history is concerned, up until about the 1800s, countries held the reigns. After, industrialization gave corporations the power, which grew quite powerful thanks to burgeoning globalization. According to Friedman, the turn of the century represents the end of the corporate epoch and the beginning of individual empowerment, in which individuals have control and leverage over globalization, production tools, and vast resources. As an individual myself, this sounds pretty good to me.

And it answers the question journalists have been asking since 2000 rolled around: Where did all these citizen journalists come from? Well, they came from the advent of the PC, standardized word processing software, and a series of fiber optic wires promulgated during the dot-com boom. QED.

I'm sure Friedman would appreciate the illustrative elements of my even posting this. It shows how publishing has become decentralized, no longer relying on journalistic institutions or "the media" for its distribution. None of this is particularly tragic for me in light of my communications career choice; it simply means I must approach it from a different angle. Soon, no doubt, no one will need the media. That doesn't mean it will disappear. It does, however, mean the media will lose the substantial power its enjoyed as the only distributor of content. In my future, I see no free lunches on the corporate tab. But then, as a free-minded, decentralized individual, maybe I should never have wanted them anyway.

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