Vin Crosbie on the Digital Deliverance blog has made two posts in a series looking at the impact of the digital revolution, and how he feels it is being misidentified and misinterpreted by today’s media.

The first post posits that over the last few decades, we have undergone a change whose impact dwarfs that of the Gutenberg printing press. Crosbie calls it “the greatest change in the history of media”: in less than a human lifetime, the availability of information to the average person has gone from scarcity to overabundance.

Thus during the past 30 to 40 years the cumulative effect of these waves of technological change is that for the majority of humanity access to news and information is changing from scarcity to surfeit. For examples, a Xhosa tribesman in South Africa with a Vodacom HTC Magic mobile handset has instant access to more information than the President of the United States did at the time of the tribesman’s birth. So does a Bolivian girl to whose school was donated refurbished Macintosh computers. So does a Mongolian plumber who bought a Lenovo netbook for his son’s education. Today, between 1.7 billion and 4.1 billion people can instantly obtain more information than could be contained in the ancient library of Alexandria, the Renaissance Era library of the Vatican, and the modern Library of Congress combined.

In his next post, Crosbie builds on this to address “the placebo called convergence.” He explains that there is a human tendency to miss out on the implications of great cultural shifts through oversimplification—people look for simplistic solutions to complicated problems.

In this light, Crosbie feels that the broadened availability of information to all has been misidentified as a “shift to digital”, or “convergence”, when in fact the reason consumers are using digital more is that it offers a wider choice between sources of information.

Media companies, Crosbie explains, think that they can get by on nothing more than “converging” traditional mass media sources to a digital format. But studies have shown Internet media consumption is wide, rather than deep—consumers may read more sources of information digitally, but don’t read any one digital source as deeply as they do the print version of it.

If media companies and media industries want to survive in the future, then they need to understand the reason for this change and its effects. The companies and industries must produce and distribute content and products that are rooted in the change and its effects. They need to stop relying on Mass Media practices and business models as their primary or even sole methods. They need to begin adapting to their methods, models, and infrastructures to great change underway.

The articles are long and rather verbose, but are both well worth reading. It is an interesting counterpoint to Marc Andreesen’s advice that traditional media should “burn the boats” and move to digital. Crosbie seems to be saying, and promises to expound further in future posts, that media companies should do more than just “move to digital”—they need to redefine their content to take advantage of digital’s differences.


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