John McCann

Archive for December, 2006|Monthly archive page

Global intellectual economy

In Globalization, Media involvement, ParticipationWeb on December 22, 2006 at 11:25 pm

2006 is ending with Time magazine naming its person of the year to be those who participate in the global intellectual economy. After describing how millions of people use blogs, podcasts, and videos to describe their lives, document events and express opinions, author Lev Grossman concludes that we have joined an economy that was previously reserved for those with access to the various printing presses and radio & TV stations.

“We’re looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it’s just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get backhauled into the global intellectual economy.”

As a university professor who writes books & articles and makes speeches all over the world, I have long been a participant in this global intellectual economy. I now welcome and celebrate the millions who have joined me. However, I find that my reaction may not be the norm as I read pieces in the traditional media that pan the contributions of the amateurs and promote the material produced by themselves.

Just this morning I read a column by George Will in which he says that magazines such as Time have “what 99.9 percent of the Web’s content lacks: seriousness.” This guy is threatened by you, and he has reacted by belittling your contributions. He says that all it takes is a glance at YouTube’s most popular videos to see that you are not in the same league as the traditional media.

I imagine that such glances are all the research that he did for his column. He clearly read the Time article and accompanying editorial because his column is peppered with quotes from the magazine. But he simply could not have spent much time researching the blogosphere. If he had, he would have found thousands, if not millions, of blogs that are as serious as his columns. As a columnist, he writes his opinions about topics of his choice. That is exactly what millions of bloggers do on a daily basis. But he clearly believes that his opinions are more serious than 99.9% of yours. Such a belief can only come from being isolated from the very topic he is writing about. His column is not informed by reality; only by a glance.

My response to George Will: are you kidding me? Get serious, man.

Start a business; hire no-one

In Early Predictions, Entrepreneur on December 11, 2006 at 4:55 pm

An article in USA Today documents a trend that has been brewing for the past couple of decades: the demise of the job. Instead, we are seeing people start businesses that do not offer jobs because they have no employees.

“Fed up with rising labor costs, a new generation of entrepreneurs is launching millions of tiny companies differing from business in the past: They don’t want employees. The trend, building since the late 1990s, hit a milestone this year when the number of these microbusinesses reached 20 million — one for every six private-sector workers, a new analysis of government data shows. In place of paid employees, owners harness new technologies to outsource work, often linking up with other like-minded entrepreneurs to get jobs done in a virtual assembly line spanning the globe.”

Back in the mid-1990s, I collected many quotes that predicted this trend, such as this one from a Fortune article:

“What is disappearing is not just a certain number of jobs. … What is disappearing is the very thing itself: the job. That much sought after, much maligned social entity, a job, is vanishing like a species that has outlived its evolutionary time. A century from now Americans will look back and marvel that we couldn’t see more clearly what was happening. … The modern world is on the verge of another huge leap in creativity and productivity, but the job is not going to be part of tomorrow’s economic reality. There still is and will always be enormous amounts of work to do, but it is not going to be contained in the familiar envelopes we call jobs. In fact, many organizations are today well along the path toward being ‘de-jobbed.’ The job is a social artifact, though it is so deeply embedded in our consciousness that most of us have forgotten its artificiality or the fact that most societies since the beginning of time have done just fine without jobs. The job is an idea that emerged early in the 19th century to package the work that needed doing in the growing factories and bureaucracies of the industrializing nations. Before people had jobs, they worked just as hard but on shifting clusters of tasks, in a variety of locations, on a schedule set by the sun and the weather and the needs of the day. The modern job is a startling new idea — and to many, an unpleasant and perhaps socially dangerous one. … Now the world is changing again: The conditions that created jobs 200 years ago — mass production and the large organization — are disappearing. … Today’s organization is rapidly being transformed from a structure built out of jobs into a field of work needing to be done. Jobs are artificial units superimposed on this field. … Jobs are no longer socially adaptive. That is why they are going the way of the dinosaur.” (William Bridges, “The End of the Job,” Fortune, September 19, 1994, pp. 62-74)

I found the idea of a small company with no employees to be very appealing after I considered starting a traditional company that would apply my academic research. I lost interest in the venture when one of my potential employee asked : “What will be your travel policy? When can I fly first class?” I knew then that I was not interested in having people work for me, and I abandoned the idea of a business. It turns out that there are at least 20 million people like me.

In Citizen Journalism, Participant observer on December 4, 2006 at 5:43 pm

An article in today’s New York Times reports that “Yahoo and Reuters want you to work for this news service.”

“Hoping to turn the millions of people with digital cameras and camera phones into photojournalists, Yahoo and Reuters are introducing a new effort to showcase photographs and video of news events submitted by the public. Starting tomorrow, the photos and videos submitted will be placed throughout Reuters.com and Yahoo News, the most popular news Web site in the United States, according to comScore MediaMetrix. Reuters said that it would also start to distribute some of the submissions next year to the thousands of print, online and broadcast media outlets that subscribe to its news service. Reuters said it hoped to develop a service devoted entirely to user-submitted photographs and video.”

This is an opportunity for anyone to contribute to the news gathering process. And it is only the latest program being offered by the traditional media. The same article describes similar efforts by CNN and quotes a CNN executive about the philosophy of this new form of journalism.

“Even the best reporters in most cases are approaching the story from the outside in,” said Mitch Gelman, the executive producer of CNN.com. “What a participant observer can offer is the perspective on that story from the inside out. We feel as a news organization we need to provide both to offer full coverage to our audience.”

I love the phrase “participant observer” because it reflects the theme of this blog. We observe many situations every day of our lives. By carrying and using a camera phone, we can now make our observations available to others.