Paradigm Shift

This is not an eulogy. This is not so much about Apple or the man – Steve Jobs – either. This is about the paradigm shift he introduced which people don’t seem to get. And this is about our future.

But: I cannot write this without paying homage to somebody I have always respected immensely. I choose to say it with the words of another man I respect very much – Seth Godin. It was actually from  his blog I got the news when I opened my iPad in the morning – a post very appropriately titled “A eulogy of action“.

“I can’t compose a proper eulogy for Steve Jobs. There’s too much to say, too many capable of saying it better than I ever could.

It’s one thing to miss someone, to feel a void when they’re gone. It’s another to do something with their legacy, to honor them through your actions.

Steve devoted his professional life to giving us (you, me and a billion other people) the most powerful device ever available to an ordinary person. Everything in our world is different because of the device you’re reading this on.

What are we going to do with it?”

– Set Godin –

I decided to write this when I was following the news after Steve Job’s passing away and one comment which I heard several times – including our MTV3 evening news – was that “he gave us gadgets we did not even know we needed” – said with a bit sarcastic undertone. And I thought: now, wait a minute…

The Gadgets we did not Know we Needed

To keep it simple, let’s forget everything else, but focus on one “gadget we did not know we needed” and that is the iPad.

A gadget, a technical innovation which became (or is becoming) part of our everyday language and experience. As did telephone, car, television, airplanes… or going a bit further down the history: ships, trains, printing press…

All of those – sure, we could live without all of them – but all of them have had immense impact on our lives. For good or for worse – yes, we could argue about that forever, but I don’t think anybody would have the balls to say those are “gadgets” – a word which somehow carries a bit of derogatory meaning along with it.

IPad (a term which I use to refer to “touch computer” in general) is not a “gadget”  in this sense either.  Yes, it’s small and electronic – I give you that. But much as I hate the word “Game Changer”  – it is just that as well. It is a Paradigm Shift with capital letters. It is going to make a huge, huge change in our daily lives. You gotta be blind not to see it.

The two worlds I spend my professional life presently –  the media on one side and education on the other – will be in total revolution because of this “gadget”. Let me make one prophecy: my daughter just started school. Before she enters the second grade, she will be doing most of her learning from the iPad.

But I save the education-theme for another day. Let’s talk about media.

Media and iPad

Oh yes, media…my favorite subject lately. Have you looked at the news lately? The Reijo-campaigning here in the North Pole and the Occupy Movement on Wall Street across the Atlantic – and how the media is (and especially was) handling that – or wasn’t handling. Wouldn’t you at least agree that there is something going on? That the media is in total turmoil? Why: because this is a postmodern paradigm shift (and if you get caught in the word postmodern, let me recommend this excellent article by Terry Heaton couple of weeks back)

I had a talk earlier today with somebody working for Google – somebody pretty high up in their organization, to say the least. He casually dropped some interesting statistics: presently c. 15% of the media is in the net – and thus, naturally 85% is somewhere else (print, tv, radio, etc.). Their very educated guess – which they take as a fact – is that within five years the numbers will be 80% in IP-media and 20% elsewhere (and note: the 20% includes tv, radio and the print…).

Would you not call this a paradigm shift?

Why do I Feel the Feed to Write this Now?

You might know that I teach linear multimedia in the University of Tampere, done it now for four years. I am also presently constructing a course for Taideteollinen Korkeakoulu (a.k.a Aalto University School of Art and Design), which I will be presenting next spring – teaching video and multimedia.  I’m given basically free hands to do as I please – naturally remaining within certain boundaries and given limits as well as taking into account the technical background of these students.

So you understand, I ask myself on a daily basis: what do these kids need to learn? When they really start working within say four, five years – what are the skills essential mastering their medium of presentation? How can I best prepare them for that; what can I teach to make their work worth while? What constitutes the core of our media then?

Thinking about this I realize: these kids will be much more in debt to Steve Jobs than Johannes Gutenberg. They will need to learn Dreamweaver and Final Cut first and only then InDesign – not vice versa.

Among everything else of course.

And as I got into using software as a metaphor: the sad status quo  of our media is that the guys in their gray suits running presently these publishing houses have barely mastered Word (with two fingers) as they have been busy typing out Excel and PowerPoint presentations defending their fading business…

The Future to Be…

Next Tuesday I have been asked to publicly comment on a research project done in The Tampere University on the subject of  iPad publications – the present state and the future of them in Finland. An honor… but I am terrified as what to say. Thank God I was not asked to “rank the top five iPad versions of our daily print” – because I probably would have died laughing…

Yet…  that is our future. If you disagree, I would really like to know on what data do you base that argument.  And I give you a tip: “I just like the smell of  paper” and “I cannot drink my coffee without my newspaper” – these are not valid arguments.

I started with Seth’s beautiful eulogy to Steve Jobs, entitled so appropriately  Eulogy of Action.  He’s last words were “what are we going to do with it?”

But.

“To honor them thru your actions…” – I liked that one. As you see.

10 Comments

  1. Tomas Whitehouse (@TykeTiler)
    October 9, 2011

    “Gadgets We Didn’t Know We Needed” I agree, those undertones again and very typical they are, sadly.
    It’s remarkable how much modern method and technological advance can be shunned, especially in the Finnish industry or more accurately – the media.
    Now I love and respect Finland in many ways, the excellent education systems, healthcare and environmental considerations but I’d be a liar or blind if I couldn’t acknowledge that this country has antiquated tendencies in certain areas:

    Media, ISP’s, telecommunications, technological advance, insurance, rentals …to name a few…and it’s a shame as the intention seem to force them all back into the dark ages rather than update and refresh.

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      October 9, 2011

      Hi Tomas –

      exactly. The home of Nokia living in the medieval times .

      You personally are actually a good example: how many Finnish photographers can show anything comparable in terms of presentation and making use of web, iPad etc.? No, the majority is busy complaining and hoping that the things will get back to “normal” – i.e. back to half inch thick HS on a Sunday morning.

      Henry Ford said once: ” If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have wanted a better horse”.

      Steve Jobs gave us the iPad – among other things – and majority of our media (and media professionals) is still lamenting and mourning because he did not provide a more effective printing press.

      Reply
  2. Juhapekka Tukiainen
    October 9, 2011

    Okay, most of this is going to be a very boring reply, so let’s get it over with: yes, yes, yes etc. I even read the Seth eulogy with exactly the same feelings and thoughts. So we have a club of mutual admiration here :-)

    To make it interesting I might add a few words not about Steve nor Seth, but Jeff.

    I think that I made an error 15 months ago. I thought that the iPad would change the world more and especially sooner than actually has happened. So my new prediction is that the real revolutionary here will be Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

    This means that the revolution will not be French in style. There will be no guillotines for the old regime and no Paris communes, regardless of the Occupy Wall Street-movement. This will be an American revolution: the redcoats will simply get shipped out of the continent and then the revolutionaries are going get to work creating an orderly society and lots of money.

    In other words, the romantic promise that Steve and especially Seth seemed to make will not happen. The internet will not be a new world where The People will be free and everybody will be equal. Instead, in 2012 the net is going to be like America in 1776: much more democratic than Europe, but still a hierarchical society with rich tycoons at the top, lots of self-sustaining farmers in the middle and many slaves doing the dirty work.

    I think that if the romantic or “communistic” revolution would have been coming, it would have happened already. Steve gave us muskets, but I don’t see much shooting. There are no worthwhile revolutionary ideas flying around in the net and no real revolutionary heroes. The most important members of the online community (after the porn industry) are old organizations like BBC and New York Times – and Amazon.

    In a way, Jeff Bezos has already been the greatest revolutionary in this story. When he gets his Kindle Fire out in a couple of weeks, things really start happening. I know I will buy it immediately when it comes to Europe, because I already use my Kindle all the time. I buy books like candy, and when I can also buy movies and stuff with the same convenience, I will do it.

    Well, you ask why don’t I get my content from the “real” revolutionaries instead of a billionaire tycoon? Because there is not much there to get! I simply have not found much worthwhile content from the dark corners of the free net. The forums are mostly filled with ranting teenagers, the free movies are mostly garbage, the free books are not interesting.

    Most of the real action is still where it always have been: universities, highbrow writers, independent moviemakers, pretty famous musicians etc. Most of these people are not counterculture hippies, but more or less successful professionals who make money and who are connected to distribution channels like Amazon.

    There is going to be a new media, yes, but it will look very much like the old one. The difference will not be that everybody will be important and free, but everybody has to be very, very professional and competent because they will constantly compete against the best professionals in the world.

    IMHO this is the real legacy of Steve. He created a successful, money-making company, not a commune. Seth is not talking about getting barefooted, but getting to work. Jeff might be a greedy tycoon, but he can sell your work to the planet – if it is good enough.

    So I would say that that the best role model for young people is not Robespierre but Benjamin Franklin. As you see, I am a member of The Virtual Tea Party : )

    Reply
  3. kkuukka
    October 9, 2011

    Again wow

    what a great commentary. Lots to think about…. I notice I have been limited in my contemplation – i.e. thinking about media and photography so much that I have not really seen the big picture.

    I agree with everything you say… and I admire the way you manage to convey your arguments. Yes, mutual admiration, as you said… ;-)

    Let me not try to argue with you (because I have no opposing views…) but simply highlight couple of notions which I found particularly spot on when I focus on our media:

    New media:

    “… everybody has to be very, very professional and competent because they will constantly compete against the best professionals in the world.”

    “I simply have not found much worthwhile content from the dark corners of the free net. The forums are mostly filled with ranting teenagers, the free movies are mostly garbage, the free books are not interesting.”

    I.e. in order for the new media to have any possibility of existing it has to be as “pro” as you can get. Not done by the cheapest, poor, nameless, easily replaceable biomass (notice how your words from your previous comment are appreciated :-) ) – as is the case now to a large extent.

    Traditionally the best talent has been hired by the publishing houses. Not any more. Now they hire – sorry, the do not hire anybody anymore (except more guys-in-ties…), they do business with the cheapest option they can find.

    The words of a friend of mine – which I have quoted earlier – come to mind:

    “I honestly wonder on which century did these people get their education, if they assume that the best business strategy is to get rid of all the best, most seasoned talent producing quality journalism. Because, at the end of the day, that’s all media has”.

    Would like to change the last line into the past tense: “Because, at the end of the day, that was all the media had.”

    Question: what do we do next?

    Reply
    • Juhapekka Tukiainen
      October 17, 2011

      Your rhetorical question of what to do next has been echoing in my head for a week. Earlier I wrote an antithesis to Terry Heaton’s postmodernist credo (without reading it first : ), so maybe my personal answer could come from that direction.

      I wrote that the new world would still be hierarchical. On the other hand, Steve Jobs made the world a lot flatter, so there are lots of horizontal possibilities, most of which have not been realized, yet.

      To me this looks like a time for synthesis of vertical old and horizontal new.

      On practical level I bumped into two seemingly separate bits of information. First, a couple of days ago Helsingin Sanomat (the old media) wrote a story about a critical book that says that the old media is wrong when it tries to save money by lowering standards. The underlying point of the story was that the book had been financed by Helsingin Sanomat.

      The other bit was Seth’s blog “Skinnier”:

      “Too often, we look at the new thing and demand to know how it supports the old thing. Perhaps, though, the question is, how does the new thing allow us to think skinnier.”

      Put together, these bits could be interpreted as saying that the old media understands the situation and tries to find solutions. The solution could be simply skinnier thinking.

      Instead of dreaming of a totally new horizontal media OR dreaming that the old hierarchical media will survive by just saving money, there could be a new, skinnier version of the old media. It would still be owned by big corporations, because individuals and tribes have not demonstrated their ability to take their place. Even Seth Godin works with Amazon in the Domino project. However, the structure and technology of the media would be skinnier, i.e. the journalists would work with jobsian tools and jobsian organizations.

      Now what would this mean to us? The answer seems to include several aspects:
      -Commercialism. Money still rules and I don’t see alternatives rising.
      -Quality. We will compete with the best on a planetary level.
      -Ethics. Occupy-movement might not be the future, but they are certainly a part of it.
      -Individualism. I don’t read just anybody’s blog, but I do read Frank Rich. I guess other people will do the same, so if we haven’t tried to brand ourselves before, it might be the time. (Branding here means simply being very, very good at what we do.)
      -Projects+corporations=capitalist tribes. Maybe everybody is right: there will be no permanent jobs any more, people will belong to tribes and yet, there will still be big corporations. Maybe freelance work will still be done for corporations, but in a different, skinnier way: the tribes would form around separate projects, and somewhat dissolve after the project.

      So my answer to your question is: it might be time to start forming semi-permanent tribes of individual professionals that sell their work to the existing companies. Not co-operatives with their turgid atmosphere and restrictive egalitarianism, but nomadic tribes of muscular warriors, so to speak. Not Mad Max, though, because the point would not be ruthless competition. Not pure Hacker Ethic, either, where everybody goes bankrupt together.

      This means that my answer to Seth Godin’s original question of what will I do with Steve Jobs’ machines is: I want to use them to become Seth Godin : )

      Reply
  4. Rami Lappalainen
    October 10, 2011

    Not really sure if I am afraid or just excited about those words from google guys…

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      October 10, 2011

      Either one is fine. You’ll just have to face it. :-)

      Reply
  5. hopper stone
    October 23, 2011

    Nothing to do with the iPad, but I do know a good Steve Jobs story. So, the rumor at Apple headquarters was that if you found yourself in the elevator with Steve, he would look at your name tag and ask you what you did at Apple. If he didn’t like your answer, he would have you fired. A friend of mine was an in-house tester for Aperture when it was being developed. On her team was a guy from Japan. About six weeks into his stint at Apple, the young Japanese man found himself in an elevator with Steve. Steve looked at his name tag and said, “And what do you do for Apple?”. The young Japanese guy said, “I’m sorry sir. It’s top secret and I’m not allowed to talk about it”.
    Apparently Steve was both amused and satisfied with his answer.

    Reply
  6. Yannick Chauvet
    December 8, 2011

    I totally agree about what this google guy said about the future of media. Newspapers in their physical aspect will disappear. They have to face it and realize it, because sometimes, I have the feeling that newspapers see internet as something evil. (sorry my english is not that good)

    Internet gives us the opportunity to inform ourself in a wide manner. I mean we can read news form all around the world from local sources, not just read in our printed national newspaper something about Australia for example.

    I didn’t buy any newspaper for ages, and I don’t own an iPad.

    Reply

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