April 11th, 2010

breaking bad

The collapse of complex systems

The Collapse of Complex Business Models by Clay Shirkey (posted 1/4/10) encapsulates, in a neat form, many of the things I have been talking about lately. Specifically, that old methods of content production, filtering and distribution will be - are being - superseded, that new methods are required, that the old system is not suitable to handle it. I have felt that text and music are the examples where production threshold is relatively low, but that other media will follow, more slowly. Shirky goes straight for the high-end content - complex media such as film and TV.
About 15 years ago, the supply part of media’s supply-and-demand curve went parabolic, with a predictably inverse effect on price. Since then, a battalion of media elites have lined up to declare that exactly the opposite thing will start happening any day now

He gives a number of examples of those who deny this change is occurring, including of course Rupert Murdoch who say that consumers must pay for content, and pay a lot, paraphrasing their position as:
spelled out in full, it would read something like this: “Web users will have to pay for what they watch and use, or else we will have to stop making content in the costly and complex way we have grown accustomed to making it. And we don’t know how to do that.”

I think Shirkey is predicting that there will be a transition to simple/amateur content across the board. He is much more sanguine about that possibility than I am. I agree such content is important, and I spend a lot of my time consuming it, but I also value the complex art forms which are produced under capitalism (such as Mad Men). I would like production and consumption of art to be sustainable through a transition to some other form of economic system - yes, even if that was another type of capitalism. But Wanting is not predicting. I believe the best hope is for orderly transition to a new mode, minimising the losses en route.

ETA - I was just thinking that people who are most likely to correctly predict a given future may be those who generally most welcome it. That is because they like it, so they seek examples of it, so they spot its first shoots. However, this does not mean they call the future into being. Fearing something can also make you sensitive to its emergence, but again, fear will not affect it.