It always feels a bit silly to me to write columns addressing the future of anything, but I can tell you that as I write this one - about the future of media, from a vantage point deep in a global economic recession - the feeling that comes to mind is more like futility. That's because I believe that something far bigger than an economic down cycle is taking place, and I also believe that media is causing it.
The truth is, I'm no better than anyone else at predicting the future, but I am convinced that when we look back from a not-too-distant time, we will realize what an utterly epic transformation has just taken place, as well as recognize the hand media had in shaping it. I can't tell you exactly when it will cycle through. I can only tell you that I believe we will be a fundamentally different society when it does. Heck, we all know it. We're already different.
We've changed so much in just the past few years, and the process is only accelerating. I just don't think we have the cognitive ability to grasp its full effect while we are living through it. It's kind of like a theory some scientists have about human apathy toward global warming: Our brains simply are not wired to grasp that kind of long-term global threat. Neurologically, they say, we're still fending off saber-toothed tigers.
I think the changes taking place in our media ecology are a lot like that. They have been happening fast enough to affect the way we live, but not so fast that our brains can register how we should deal with it - whether to fight, or give flight. Mostly, people have been fleeing. They've been running from an old, analog model that prized economies of scale to one that is digital, diffused, free-flowing, and open source.
People no longer wait for information to come to them. That's what has made search and discovery so important in our new information economy. We may not be able to view its entirety, but like the deforestation of a large land mass, or the loss of some Antarctic ice shelf, we see what happens when there is a pronounced shift in the way we use media. First the recorded music industry. Then the newspaper industry. What happens when broadcast tv and radio lose their relevance as the centralized repositories of video and audio content? What happens when anyone can receive anything, anywhere and at any time in the kind of 4G wireless world that Josh Lovison talks about later in this issue? What happens when the business models that have supported professional journalism erode or go away? What happens when we begin accessing our most relevant content not from big, centralized media institutions, but from each other? We have gone full circle from a planet of cultural tribes to one McLuhan termed a "global village," and now back again to a new form of electronic tribalism where cultures are defined not by geographic borders, but by the instantaneous connectivity of relevant shared content.
As I've indicated, I'm better at asking those kinds of questions than I am at providing the answers. But I can tell you we've assembled the views of some fairly cogent minds - people like Chris Anderson (both of them), Philip K. Dick (posthumously), and rocker Grace Slick - to at least try to get at them.
This issue is special for two reasons: One is that it is the second annual issue focused exclusively on the future of media. Two, it is the second one to feature a guest editor, this time, Alex Bogusky. Interestingly, when I asked Bogusky to guest edit this issue, I originally envisioned him doing an issue themed around "creative's take on media," but he was actually more interested in discussing the future of media, a subject I thought we'd thoroughly examined, and exhausted, when Bob Guccione Jr. took it on as Media's first guest editor last year. Apparently not. Bogusky brought a similar, but different kind of passion to the subject, and we could all feel how it is energizing one of Madison Avenue's top creative thinkers. I think you'll feel it, too. So take a read, and let us know.