What caused the industry to take notice in 2016?
Key actors in the tech industry are taking stock of 2016. What are two of the most influential saying? And are their analyses right?
The industry view
Buzzfeed boss Jonah Peretti provided a lengthy analysis (link: http://www.recode.net/2016/12/19/14010044/buzzfeed-wins-internet-future-of-media-online-social) of the ‘digital world’ in his annual memo to employees. Peretti singles out traditional media and print-based journalism as having been “too slow to shift to digital”, leaving a vacuum that has unfortunately been filled by sensationalist and fake news. This is he says, symptomatic of “a wider shift in the economics of the media industry.” Audiences have moved to new platforms but the media budgets and the providers of quality content have not followed.
We are, in his analysis, in a transitional phase, where old and new are still finding the way forward.
Despite the lack of serious investment in web-platforms by major media houses and advertisers he sees great potential in the convergence of ‘social’ and ‘mobile’. The future of the web and digital communication is still to be drawn and companies like BuzzFeed are poised to help make that future happen.
The clue, he says, lies in understanding the ecologies and economies that surround the sharing of content and what he calls the “share statements” (what people say about the content they share and what those say who receive it):
“Understanding the inherently social nature of media is one of the biggest “digital advantages.” But despite the rise of social media and the growth of BuzzFeed, it will still take years until most of the industry fully understands.”
Peretti’s analyses of the evolution of digital media are highly interesting, but also problematic. A key problem is that his view is very tech-centric, making succinct points about the interaction-economy of social media, but saying very little about the wider political and cultural climate in which these technologies are being adopted and changing people’s behaviour.
Example: when he says that “the internet is incredibly good at unlocking the true preferences of consumers,” it’s as though he sees the consumer as unaffected by the media and gadget environment these preferences are formed within. Consumers could be argued to have no ‘true preferences’ but simply reacting to the stimuli offered up, making choices, but not independent choices.
An analysis that doesn’t take into account the fundamentally already mediated experience of modern life will only suggest solutions that propagate the old mistakes.
The tech journo view Recode Journo Kara Swisher (https://twitter.com/karaswisher) is by many considered the most influential and important tech observer around. In her end-of-year analysis (link: http://www.recode.net/2016/12/19/13600538/silicon-valley-grow-up-donald-trump-election) or shall we call it salvo, she urges Silicon Valley leaders to ‘grow up’! and take responsibility for the effects their technologies are creating.
Her strongly emotional and critical stance is firstly fuelled by what she sees as the tech industry’s failure to understand the power they have, and secondly by the industry’s failure to stand up to power, exemplified by uncritically going along to Trump’s tech summit (link: http://www.recode.net/2016/12/12/13917982/trump-hair-tech-summit-shame-silicon-valley) in early December.
Swisher’s critical stance is a much needed corrective in an industry where tech trumps social reality, that is: an industry that has been allowed to generate revolutionary technology without being mature enough to see (closing its eyes) the longer-term consequences and doing anything to curb or mitigate these.
Both Peretti’s and Swisher’s views should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in understanding the direction our shared world is taking.