A few weeks ago I read a book from Jaron Lanier: “You are not a Gadget“. I am a fan of Jaron Lanier, I think he is one of the few sillicon valley insiders that really tries to think hard about the effect technology has on our lives and societies.
There was one part of the book that really got me thinking and it was about the loss of the local notables.
If we look at the long tail from Chris Anderson we are now seeing that the long tail does exist but also creates havoc in a lot of professions due to the price pressure of the (often quite capable) amateurs. This counts for filmmakers, photographers and many other professions where there are also a lot of amateurs craving for attention. There are of course some that are succeeding and even flourishing but as a profession they are hit hard
A second effect is that in some cases there are winners that really take it all. Examples like Google, Facebook, Amazon and (some) others. These have become highly profitable companies that have become un-beatable monopolies in markets they often created themselves (but we now can not do without..).
What we are now losing is the middle ground, the vanishing local notables. On the one hand we have highly profitable de-facto monopolies and at the other end of the scale we have hordes of amateurs whose business model consist of their 15 seconds of fame and a proverbial Apple. In the area in between in the past lots of people were able to get relatively rich on a local level. The doctor, the lawyer, the local care dealer, the supermarket owner. their numbers are going down due to the transfer of part of their business to the few (global) winners and part of their business to amateurs that work for an Apple.
With their disappearance we also see a disappearance of local culture since these often were the people and companies that supported local activities. We may gain some brilliant cultural institutions like “The concertgebouw orkest” but we will lose many local orchestra’s, museums but also social activities that will not be sponsored anymore by the local notables.
In the digital realm this is probably an enhancement of our lives. After all, we only need one concertgebouworkest since we can listen to their breathtaking digital recordings for ever after. However, we also have a physical local presence that we should cherish.
What is the answer to this dilemma I do not know, neither does Jaron. But it is certainly something we will have to think about in the years ahead.