Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Is "Big Brother" Dying or Just Being Born?

A post on Smart Mobs entitled Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation raises one of the central questions about the future and technology. Is "Big Brother" dying or just being born? Will technology enslave us or empower us? Here's the quote:

How we resolve this culture war will have far-reaching consequences for all of us. Five or ten years from now, who will be able to create and share media—individuals, or only powerful interests? When hundreds of millions of people walk down the street carrying connected, always-on devices hundreds of times more powerful than today’s computers, what will they be allowed to do?

I think the end of the drama is written upon the wall. The digitally connected masses will soon remove the mass from media. Here's why:

1. The balance of power has already shifted to the masses in a sort of first mover advantage. The backlash coming from the entertainment industry is reflexive. It happens *after* networked mobs creatively, unexpectedly, disruptively take technology into their own hands. The tension between the entertainment industry and the online world simply represents that shift of power and control away from mass media.

2. What will the entertainment industry be when consumers en masse, produce their own "as good or better than" diversions? Blogs spontaneously exploded news into millions of niches, leaching the mass from news media. Cheap high tech multimedia production tools wielded by thousands of grass roots reporters are absolutely capable of producing high quality fare.

The mass entertainment and news industry will soon compete with high quality virtually free grass roots alternatives from the digitally connected masses, and take its rightful place as another niche. What "mass" will be left to market to?

3. Litigation takes a lot of time. Since technological advances also accelerate events, inflexible, knee jerk systems will eventually be overwhelmed with the speed of disruption. There will soon not be enough time to react before the next volley. Future shock paralyses the most inflexible systems first. So, ultimately, in a digitally networked world, control is distributed to the masses. But the question keeps returning:

Is Big Brother a Possible Future?

Will some central organization, representing narrow interests be able to control what citizens share electronically? I don't think so. The imminent emergence of open source personal self-replicating fabricators will spit out an ever growing complexity of items, all of which will be embedded with personalized computational intelligence. So, no consistent control over hardware standards will be possible. Chips will not answer to a centralized institution.

As self-replicating fabricators rapidly spread to thousands and then millions of people, they will mutate and evolve; enlisted to upgrade and propagate their own next generation. Mobjects from the collective creative energy of Smart Mobs. This spells the end of the consumer/ producer divide. What will mass marketing be without a mass market?

P. S. The rise of personal replicating desktop fabricators is one of the trends I've followed closely since October 2004. I was pleased to see CNN cover the emergence of desktop fabricators only a few days ago. The blogosphere scooped CNN by many months :)