Monoculture, an Artifact of the 20th Century?
Monday, May 13, 2002 by Dave Winer.
We got a vigorous and thoughtful response to the guest essay from Adam Curry and the follow-up from Lance Knobel, and that got me wondering why. One reader commented that much of what I write is over her head, but she understood what Adam was saying. Another said that there will be a rebellion against the "media," much like what happened to the tobacco industry. Lots of comments from the Netherlands, a country that rarely makes worldwide headlines. True to what I believe about the Netherlands, they were mostly thoughtful, although there were a few flames. Nothing like what you get from writing about the death penalty in the US (whose mere mention is likely to evoke a broiling response from a few people).
Why such a response to a piece written by another person? Is he a better writer than I am? I discarded that as self-centered. Is the subject more approachable? Hmmm. Perhaps. But on reflection I decided the reason was simpler, and more obvious. People have read me, they know how I think, but here's a new person, with new patterns, different experiences, a different way of expressing himself, a different set of issues, as Adam would say, different programming.
Now that thought led me back around the loop to the music and movie industries, news and television, all of which are, following the analogy of Adam and Dave, worn out, more of the same, a monoculture, too predictable, uninteresting, not taking us anywhere new.
Every day we're asked to pay a price to continue the existing centralized system of flowing information and creativity. What if we don't want to pay? Further, what if this system is now obsolete? Information and creativity used to be decentralized, before the 20th century, every town had a newspaper. If you wanted to enjoy music you either made it yourself or had a friend whose talent could entertain you.
Perhaps the centralized system, that led to such a suffocating monoculture, was a historic anomaly, an artifact? The technology of the phonograph, radio and television demanded centralization. Distribution was expensive. To pay for distribution we needed financial entities who would be rewarded for risks.
Who would be the next Beatles, the band that everyone listened to? Maybe in the future there won't be bands that everyone listens to. Maybe this wouldn't be so horrible as the philosophers of the centralized systems believe.
Perhaps monoculture has run its course. Maybe what's happening now, but it's hard to see, is that each of us is taking more responsibility for getting our own information, for creating our own entertainment, and not giving that power to the centralized entertainment and information industries.