The revolution will not be consumed

October 3, 2009 | By | Category: General News

“Flee into the future as fast as you can!” “Look back twice as far as you look forward!” “You’re standing on a media whale … for God’s sake don’t fish for minnows!”

These are the pearls of wisdom reporters found themselves stringing together and tapping into their cell phones while listening to Stanford professor and cultural forecaster Paul Saffo, who spoke at ONA Friday afternoon.

And his most popularly tweeted prognostication: Reporters will be replaced by robots.

Paul Saffo photo by Nicole Fallek

Paul Saffo photo by Nicole Fallek

First bloggers, now robots are stealing our jobs? Sheesh.

“I wish everyone in legacy media could listen to this guy,” said Seattle Times Associate Managing Editor Cory Haik, who says she has attended her share of media conferences and myopic, hand-wringing, how-do-we-save-the-industry conversations.

For her, Saffo’s message was a highlight of the conference.

“‘Damn, I don’t know anything’—that’s how I walked out of there,” Haik said. “Journalists are so narcissistic and so focused on right now. We have to zoom out and look at history: It’s not unique. It’s not just about me. It’s not just about us.”

Haik’s Saffo-tweet: “News is not the organizing strategy of your business. Media is.” Other attendees were less wistful: “In the future, journalists will replace robots. You know, digging uranium, taking out trash, robotic butlers … that sort of thing,” tweeted Chanders.

In his presentation Saffo delivered updates on media theory (The mass media revolution ended in the mid ’90s; now is the age of the personal media revolution); journalism do’s (Embrace uncertainty) and don’ts (Don’t use new forms of media to do slavish imitations of the old forms), and even instructions for further reading (Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter—the “economic god of this century”).

He offered optimism, too.

Whenever there’s a major media shift, Saffo said, quality is one of the first things to go. It happened with the Gutenberg press, which created a boom in cheap pornography that eventually paved the way for the novel. It will happen with new media forms too.

True to his title as forecaster, Saffo predicted that new media empires will arise in the next decade that will dwarf the Time Warners and Comcasts of today. They’ll do this, he says, “by enabling the many and the small.”

In other words, the media companies that will grow fattest in what he calls the new “creator economy”—in which producing and consuming are the very same act—are those that harness the smallest creative actions … smaller even than pithy search engine strings or 140-character tweets.

Seems like there’s little room for good old-fashioned storytelling in this new media landscape. But not necessarily.

When approached after the session, Saffo said our life purpose boils down to three desires: 1) The desire to be useful. 2) The desire to collect stuff. 3) The desire to tell stories. Companies like Amazon and eBay satisfy the first two desires.

“The most successful companies will combine all three,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for professional storytellers.

“Our planet is getting smaller,” Saffo said. “And the scarcest currency on this planet is story.”

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