“Here Comes Everybody” wrote Clay Shirky, tech evangelist, five years ago. He’s a cheerleader for the radical empowerment offered by the internet – new voices, direct access, more ideas, a swirl of intellectual and political ferment.
Here comes another book on the impact of the internet which takes the next step. Nicco Mele’s “The End of Big” pithily summarises the impact of what he terms “radical connectivity – our breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly and globally.”
But from the preview extracts I’ve read, it poses sobering questions about what happens next, when Big Institutions get undercut. You know the drill. Free blogs undercut paid news. Online protest, old-fashioned politics. Music sharing, record labels. You Tube uploads, the film studios. 3D printing, traditional supply chains. And so on. As Nicco Mele puts it, “radical connectivity is toxic to conventional power structures”.
But if and when the big guys have gone… Mele asks us to look harder at what we will lose. “We can’t fetishize technology and say ‘to hell with our institutions’ without suffering terrible consequences.”
“Ten years from now, we might well find ourselves living in constant fear of extremist groups and lone individuals who, thanks to technology, can disrupt society at will, shutting off power, threatening food supplies, creating mayhem.”
Is he scaremongering? He calls this section simply, “No, I am Not Exaggerating”.
And he observes how much of the ‘David Beats Goliath’ narrative is actually self-defeating. It’s an inconvenient truth that many self-styled radical new online operators piggy-back on the conventional players they undercut – and even profess to despise.
“Scan the headlines every morning – through your Facebook and Twitter feeds – and you can feel history shifting under your feet. Every day I find more and more evidence that we are in the twilight of our own age, and that we can’t quite grasp it, even if we can sense something is terribly amiss.”
“The End of Big” is a wake-up call. It demands we take a long hard look at our own behaviour. We’re all enjoying the online feast. But there’s still no such thing as a free lunch.
In an era of creative destruction, in an age of breakneck change, Nicco Mele gives us pause for thought about where we’re going and what we’ll find there.