The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath

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9781250021854: The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath

How seemingly innocuous technologies are unsettling the balance of power by putting it in the hands of the masses - and what a world without "big" will mean for all of us.
In The End of Big, social media pioneer, political and business strategist, and Harvard Kennedy School faculty member Nicco Mele offers a fascinating, sometimes frightening look at how our ability to stay connected - constantly, instantly, and globally - is dramatically changing our world.
Governments are being upended by individuals relying only on social media. Major political parties are seeing their power eroded by grassroots forces through online fund-raising. Universities are scrambling to preserve their student populations in the face of less expensive, more accessible online courses. Print and broadcast news outlets are struggling to compete with citizen journalists and bloggers. Our traditional institutions are being disrupted in revolutionary ways, some for the better. But, as Nicco Mele argues, the benefits of new technology come with unintended consequences. In The End of Big, Mele examines:

- How fringe political forces enter the mainstream and gain traction using everyday technology - with the enormous potential to undermine central power

- What happens when investigative journalism is replaced by ad hoc bloggers, mobile video, and instantaneous tweets...and whether they challenge or simply enable power

- Why Web-based micro-businesses are outcompeting major corporations, and what innovations will alter the way we work, own things, and pay for goods and services

- The collapse of traditional party politics, and the rise of a new kind of democracy, one which could produce dynamic and effective leaders...or demagogues

- How citizen initiatives can replace local and state government functions, such as safety regulations, tax collection, and garbage pickup, and do so cheaper, faster, and better

Mele argues that unless we exercise caution in our use of these new technologies, we risk a dark and wildly unstable future, one in which our freedoms and basic human values could be destroyed rather than enhanced. Both hopeful and alarming, The End of Big is a thought-provoking, passionately argued book that offers genuine insight into the ways we are using technology, and how it is radically changing our world in ways we are only now beginning to understand.

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

NICCO MELE is a leading forecaster of business, politics, and culture in our fast-moving digital age. Named by Esquire magazine as one of America's "Best and Brightest," he served as webmaster for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign and popularized the use of technology and social media for political fund-raising, reshaping American politics. Not long after, he helped lead the online efforts for Barack Obama in his successful bid for the U.S. Senate. Mele's firm, EchoDitto, is a leading Internet strategy company working with nonprofit organizations and Fortune 500 companies, among them Google, AARP, the Clinton Global Initiative, the United Nations, and others. He also serves on a number of boards, including the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, is a cofounder of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and is on the faculty at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

1
 

BURN IT ALL DOWN
… “You’ve begun
to separate the dark from the dark.”1
Look around you.
Bloggers rather than established news outlets break news. Upstart candidates topple establishment politicians. Civilian insurgencies organized on Facebook challenge conventional militaries. Engaged citizens pull off policy reforms independent of government bureaucracies. Local musicians bypass record labels to become YouTube sensations. Twentysomething tech entrepreneurs working in their pajamas destabilize industry giants and become billionaires.
Radical connectivity—our breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly, and globally2—has all but transformed politics, business, and culture, bringing about the upheaval of traditional, “big” institutions and the empowerment of upstarts and renegades. When a single crazy pastor in Florida can issue pronouncements that, thanks to the Internet, cause widespread rioting in Pakistan, you know something has shifted. When a lone saboteur can leak hundreds of thousands of secret government documents to the world, helping spark revolutions in several Middle Eastern countries, you again know something has shifted.
Technophiles celebrate innovations such as smartphones, the Internet, or social media as agents of progress; Luddites denounce them as harbingers of a new dark age. One thing is certain: Radical connectivity is toxic to conventional power structures. Today, before our eyes, the top-down nation-state model as we’ve known it is collapsing. Traditional sources of information like broadcast and print media are in decline. Aircraft carriers and other military hardware that for decades underpinned geopolitical power are obsolete and highly vulnerable, while organized violence remains a growing threat. Competitive hierarchies within industries are disappearing. Traditional cultural authorities are fading. Everything we depend on to preserve both social stability and cherished values, including the rule of law, civil liberties, and free markets, is coming unraveled.
The End of Big is at hand.
Institutions Aren’t Dispensable
You might ask, Isn’t the destruction of old institutions potentially a pretty good thing? Many traditional, big institutions are deeply flawed and even corrupt—they deserve to die. Few among us are not frustrated with the culture of influence and money in the two big political parties or disgusted by the behavior of at least one big corporation. Echoing the philosopher Oswald Spengler, isn’t creative destruction, well, creative?
Our institutions have in fact failed us. Building a sustainable economy, for instance, that allows us to avert the catastrophic consequences of global warming seems hopeless in the face of big government, big business, and a dozen other big institutions. Ultimately, technological advances provide unprecedented opportunities for us to reshape our future for the better.
At the same time we can’t fetishize technology and say “to hell with our institutions” without suffering terrible consequences. The State Department was designed and built for an era predating telephones and jet travel, let alone the distance-collapsing magic of the Internet. But that fact doesn’t mean we should or can give up diplomacy. Government has become bloated and inefficient—but we still need somebody to repair roads, keep public order, and create the public sphere where the market cannot or should not dominate. Unless we exercise more deliberate choice over the design and use of technologies, we doom ourselves to a future inconsistent with the hard-won democratic values on which modern society is based: limited government, the rule of law, due process, free markets, and individual freedoms of religion, speech, press, and assembly. To the extent these values disappear, we’re dooming ourselves to a chaotic, uncontrollable, and potentially even catastrophic future.
No, I Am Not Exaggerating
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 in the streets, and impeding commercial activity. We’ve already seen a small group of hackers disrupt commuting in San Francisco for a few days (as a protest against police brutality) while flash mobs of approximately one hundred people have been showing up at retailers in cities like St. Paul, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C., ransacking stores and making off with sacks of loot.3
This is just the beginning. Can you imagine daily life without currency issued by the national government? It’s distinctly possible. What if in a hyperlocal society the sanitation department never comes to collect your trash—what would you do then? What if government bodies can no longer regulate the large numbers of small businesses that will exist with the End of Big? Could you trust that your food, medicines, and automobiles are safe? What will happen if authoritative news reporting ceases to exist and if cultural authorities fade into the background, inaugurating a new dark age? How will our democracy function? How will business advance? How will we solve big problems like hunger and global warming?
Wrapping Our Minds Around the Basic Problem
This book explores the destructive consequences of radical connectivity across many domains of contemporary society, from the press to political parties, from militaries to markets. Other writers have examined the transformative potential of new technologies, generally focusing on specific domains such as business, economics, or culture, or on a specific dimension of technology’s impact. This book seeks to address a broader problem that directly affects us all. Radical connectivity is altering the exercise of power faster than we can understand it. Most of us feel lost in the dust kicked up by the pace of change. We can tell political, social, and economic life is shifting, but we don’t know what to make of it in the aggregate. Some changes seem destined to improve our lives, yet the impact on familiar institutions like the press makes us nervous. Opportunities for progress abound (and I will explore those, too), but so do openings for instability and even outright chaos. The devices and connectivity so essential to modern life put unprecedented power in the hands of every individual—a radical redistribution of power that our traditional institutions don’t and perhaps can’t understand.
Most of us, including policy experts, scholars, and politicians, haven’t subjected radical connectivity to a deep and critical scrutiny, weighing the benefits and risks with a cold eye. Throughout the entire 2012 U.S. presidential primary campaign, not a single debate featured a substantial question about technology—about the nature and role of privacy for citizens, for instance, or about the disruptive impact of social media on the Middle East. But the problem runs deeper. We don’t yet have an adequate vocabulary to talk about what’s happening. The word “technology” is weak; a wheel is technology, and so is the printing press, whereas our present-day technology collapses time, distance, and other barriers. “Networked” doesn’t quite capture the dramatic global reach, the persistent presence, the mobile nature of our world. You often hear “social” used in connection with technology—social media, social business, social sharing—but the consequences of radical connectivity on institutions are anything but social: They are disruptive, confusing, even dangerous.
Sometimes people utter the catchall term “digital,” but it’s not clear what that means, either; remember the digital watches of the 1980s? “Open” sounds good: open government, open-source politics, open-source policy. But WikiLeaks brings severe diplomatic and political consequences that “open” doesn’t capture. Just because something is machine readable and online doesn’t necessarily mean it is open. Also, “openness” describes the end result of technology, but it ignores the closed cabal of nerds (of which I’m one) that came up with this technology and defined its political implications. Not to mention that the control a handful of companies exert over our technology is far from open—companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook.
Ha Ha! You Laughed at Us, Now We Control You
This last point is critical—and as a prelude to this book, I’ll spend the rest of this first chapter fleshing it out. Why has the digital age spawned so much social, political, and economic upheaval? Is it happenstance? Or is it a function of how specific groups of users have chosen to use technologies? Neither. A radical individualistic and antiestablishment ideology reminiscent of the 1960s is baked right into the technologies that underlie today’s primary communications tools. Current consumer technologies are specifically designed to do two things: empower the individual at the expense of existing institutions, ancient social structures and traditions, and uphold the authority and privilege of the computer nerds.
Power is not about knowing how to use Twitter. It’s about grasping the thinking underneath the actual technology—the values, mind-sets, worldviews, and arguments embedded in all those blinking gadgets and cool Web sites.4 Without realizing it, citizens and elected leaders have abdicated control over our political and economic destinies to a small band of nerds who have decided, on our own, that upstarts and renegades should triumph over established power centers and have designed technology to achieve that outcome. “Cyber-activists are perceived to be the underdogs, flawed and annoying, perhaps, but standing up to overbearing power,” says the tech pioneer Jaron Lanier. “I actually take seriously the idea that the Internet can make non-traditional techie actors powerful. Therefore, I am less sympathetic to hackers when they use their newfound power arrogantly and non-constructively.”5 Indeed, in our arrogance and optimism, we nerds haven’t considered the impact of our designs, nor have we thought through the potential for chaos, destabilization, fascism, and other ills. We’ve simply subjected the world to our designs, leaving everyone else to live with the consequences, whether or not we like them.
Technology seems value-neutral, yet it isn’t. It has its own worldview, one the rest of us adopt without consideration because of the convenience and fun of our communications devices. People worship Steve Jobs and his legendary leadership of Apple, and they consume Apple products such as the iPhone and iPad with delight and intensity—yet these products and indeed the vision of Jobs are reorganizing our world from top to bottom. The nerds who brought you today’s three most dominant communications technologies—the personal computer, the Internet, and mobile phones—were in different ways self-consciously hostile to established authority and self-consciously alert to the vast promise and potential of individual human beings. The personal computer was born out of the counterculture of the late 60s and early 70s, in part a reaction to the failure of institutions at that time. The Internet’s commercialization took place in the context of the antiregulatory fervor of Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolution and Bill Clinton’s private-sector friendly, centrist administration. And mobile phone adoption exploded during the 2000s, challenging the institutions of the nation-state and bringing globalization to the digital world.
A Big Word: “Technopoly”
In his book Technopoly, the late cultural critic Neal Postman highlights the way the very technologies we design to serve us wind up controlling us. At first, Postman argues, we use technology as tools to help save labor and get the job done. Over time, the tools come to “play a central role in the thought world of the culture.” Finally, in the technopoly, the tools no longer support the culture but dictate and shape the culture. “The culture seeks its authorization in technology, finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology.” In reading Postman’s work, I drop the word “culture” and substitute “big institutions.” In our time, institutions like government, political parties, and the media seek authorization from technology and even take orders from technology.
The technopoly is not machine-controlled. There are people behind it, people with political ideals—as well as with economic and political interests—that they bring to technology design. The nerds whom mainstream society once portrayed as outcasts and undesirables are now powerful oligarchs, both literally and figuratively. McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, an online literary magazine, ran a very fun piece titled “In Which I Fix My Girlfriend’s Grandparents’ WiFi and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero.”6 If you can fix someone’s technical problem, you suddenly receive enormous power and respect—a little bit of nerd ability goes a long way. Some of the largest, most powerful corporations on earth—Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard—are tech companies run by nerds. Joined by nonprofit organizations like Wikipedia, they shape our public life, our culture, and, increasingly, our institutions. Their products have reflected the political sensibilities of nerds both individually and collectively over the past fifty years. At its core, the technopoly’s nonpartisan political philosophy can be summarized in one phrase reminiscent of the 60s: Burn it all down … and make me some money! In parallel to this philosophy, with little sense of irony, the nerds in pursuit of market dominance have created a few new, really huge institutions of the digital age, the “even bigger” platforms we rely on every day, like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google, and the lock-in universe of Apple’s iPhone. These are the glaring exceptions to the End of Big that prove the rule.
Before later chapters of this book can examine radical connectivity’s destructive effects on citizenship and community, political campaigning, news reporting, universities, scientific inquiry, entertainment, and corporate strategy, and before I can point the way toward the renewal of our institutions and a more stable and prosperous twenty-first century, we need to understand how a radical antiestablishment ethic became embedded in our technologies. Let me recount a few details of this well-worn story, the history of my people, the American nerds.7
Personal Computer Versus Institutional Computer
We take personal computers for granted, but in the history of computer science, they are a relatively recent detour. During the 1940s and 1950s, most computer science took place inside large organizations—militaries, corporations, universities. Even by the late 1960s, the freshly minted computer nerd looking for a job would likely have gone into a large institution. That’s because computers were giant institutional devices requiring a substantial amount of money and space. In 1969, Seymour Cray started selling the CDC 7600, a supercomputer whose base price was about $5 million. Imagine a wall of today’s stainless steel side-by-side refrigerators, then build yourself a large office cubicle with walls made of giant stainless steel refrigerators. You’ve got the Cray 7600. Its top speed was about 36.4 MHz, not much compared to today’s iPhone 4’s 1 GHz (although both machines have the same flop score, a measure of how fast they can do floating point calculations). That means your iPhone 4 is about as powerful as a Cray supercomputer. Only large institutions could afford these bad boys, and they used them not to watch and share videos or listen to your neighbor’s kid’s noisy garage...

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Description du livre St Martin s Press, United States, 2013. Hardback. État : New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In The End of Big , Internet pioneer and Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Nicco Mele draws on nearly twenty years of experience to explore the consequences of revolutionary technology. Our ability to connect instantly, constantly, and globally is altering the exercise of power with dramatic speed. Governments, corporations, centres of knowledge, and expertise are eroding before the power of the individual. It can be good in some cases, but as Mele reveals, the promise of the Internet comes with a troubling downside. Unless we exercise deliberate moral choice over the design and use of technologies, Mele says, we doom ourselves to a future that tramples human values, renders social structures chaotic, and destroys rather than enhances freedom. Both hopeful and alarming, thought-provoking and passionately-argued, The End of Big is an important book about our present - and our future. N° de réf. du libraire FLT9781250021854

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Description du livre St Martin s Press, United States, 2013. Hardback. État : New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In The End of Big , Internet pioneer and Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Nicco Mele draws on nearly twenty years of experience to explore the consequences of revolutionary technology. Our ability to connect instantly, constantly, and globally is altering the exercise of power with dramatic speed. Governments, corporations, centres of knowledge, and expertise are eroding before the power of the individual. It can be good in some cases, but as Mele reveals, the promise of the Internet comes with a troubling downside. Unless we exercise deliberate moral choice over the design and use of technologies, Mele says, we doom ourselves to a future that tramples human values, renders social structures chaotic, and destroys rather than enhances freedom. Both hopeful and alarming, thought-provoking and passionately-argued, The End of Big is an important book about our present - and our future. N° de réf. du libraire FLT9781250021854

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