The meeting was supposed to follow the BloggerCon rules of moderation, but most people don't know about these, so it takes a while before it feels normal. I had that experience trying to boot up BloggerCon-style meetings in Nashville and Palo Alto. If the people don't know how it works, it just doesn't work.
In Silicon Valley, if you let a discussion wander, it ends up centered on the point of view of the technology industry. You have users and they generate content. Everything revolves around that model. It's pretty inhuman, because the people who do the generating are sometimes "experts" who invest their whole lives in understanding stuff, and then want to share it with others because that's what humans like to do, even if they aren't being paid. Of course the tech companies are all about being paid, for doing what they do. The users are like hamsters on a treadmill. Do you ever think about paying hamsters? I don't think so!
Okay, everyone says NY is where the future is. I'm afraid this might become hype just like the story you hear about Silicon Valley. It's a way of saying the rest of the world doesn't count. Of course people like to think that they live in the one place that makes a difference, it's simpler that way. The world is so complex, who wouldn't want it to be simpler. But who would be happy if they thought the center of the world was somewhere else? So the battle is constant. And for a while people believed the center was in Silicon Valley. I think the worst thing in the world is to live in the center. There's no where to go but down from there. Upside is better. So I choose to think where I live is somewhere off-center. It's also more interesting.
So when the New York conversation drifts, it doesn't end up where the Silicon Valley conversation ends. I guess this is no surprise, right? Where it ends up is with the (forgive me I don't know the terminology) the guy writing the story that informs everyone else. Who is everyone else? It's the hamsters again! This time the hamsters, instead of generating content, are generating revenue! They're clicking on the tip jar, causing micropayments to flow to the author (and his or her editors) so they can earn a living while informing all the other hamsters who are happily paying for all this good stuff. But what happens if the knowledge that everyone wants isn't in the reporters' heads but rather resides with the hamsters? What then?
Two cases in point. One, the prototype -- This American Life did a special called Giant Pool of Money -- which should win a Pulitzer for explaining the financial crisis of 2008 in terms anyone with a mind could understand. Everyone who heard it probably remembers exactly where they were when they did. I was walking on Marin Ave in Berkeley. It was great. Before I heard it I had no clue what the financial crisis was about. After hearing it, I got it. And everyone agrees -- we need more of this. But, I found out last night, much to my chagrin, that it took months to produce this episode. And there's the rub, and why the people who are invested in the NY-based system are so enamored of this example, because it proves that You Need Us. Without heavily and expensively produced content, they say, you won't be informed.
So I provide a counter-example. One that fits my model, which I proudly think of as being neither Silicon Valley-centered or New York-centered. I (of course) think my model is reality-centered. (Yes, I am arrogant, I cop to it.)
The counter-example is this. A fantastic FreshAir episode, one hour in duration, recorded live, with almost no production, that completely explained the options for universal health care in the US just as the debate was beginning. It was timely, complete, wonderful and super-inexpensive. Why? Because an individual did all the work. It was paid for by a publisher of course, and he is a professional writer, so while it was expensive, it's part of a reservoir of value that thinkers on both coasts tend to ignore, and in doing so, I think -- miss where the answer is going to come from. The question is -- how will we satisfy the enormous thirst people have for information when the economics of information no longer support vast budgets, or vast amounts of time, to produce expensive wonderful programming like Pool of Money. The answer: From the sources. The people who know what's up.
Sure, This American Life produced something sexier, with great production value, and FreshAir is a talk show. But it was still riveting. I remember where I was when I listened to it (driving from Santa Cruz between Los Gatos and Fremont). I found, last night, when explaining it, I could name each of the models the author described, and it's been six months since the program aired. It obviously made as much of an impression as Pool of Money did.
So the moral of the story is that neither coast has the answer, but the answer is out there all the same. Let's not gravitate to an assumption that the cursor has moved 3000 miles to the east and bring all our sloppy thinking habits with us. We have minds, let's use them, and our minds have information, and let's distribute it, to whoever wants it, no matter where it comes from.