Thursday, February 09, 2006

Here we come a Carrolling

Futurist-about-town and author of umpteen books, Jim Carroll, was chosen to give the curtain-raiser speech for the Ontario Media Development Corporation annual conference, Six Degrees of Integration, on Wednesday evening in Toronto. This is a by-invitation gathering of leaders from various media, including books, magazines, television, film, video, sound recording and multimedia.

What they got was a headlong scolding for being a) too old, b) too timid, c) too protectionist d) not understanding how fast everything is changing and e) resisting inevitable change. Like some corduroy Borg, his message was repeated over and over -- essentially that you guys don't get it. And resistance is futile.

It was a presentation (to call it a speech would be inaccurate) long on generalities about the pace of change, the appetite for change, the boomers' resistance to change, all built around a thesis that had something to do with scientists soon being able to "stop light" and thereby open up bandwidth exponentially.

It was wrapped in a globalist, individualist, almost Ayn Randian veneer and curiously illustrated with a weird assortment of family pictures and unfunny cartoons. Most of the people in the room have businesses (like magazines) built upon creation of content and deriving profit and growth from that content. They have a big investment and carry enormous risks. Yet Carroll essentially dismissed this and all old-fashioned ideas of copyright, creators' rights and ownership of cultural intelligence. Old hat. Doomed. Good riddance.

His talk was absent of specifics about what these people could do to make the transition from their current business models, something that you might have expected from such a keynote. It is all very well to say that current business models are rubbish and headed imminently for oblivion. It is quite another to give not a single suggestion about how to keep the heat and light on and pay employees' salaries and mortgages while plunging into the fast paced and accelerating future. No, such considerations are merely symptoms of an ingrained resistance to change. But there wasn't much about how to adapt to accelerating change, beyond bromides about observing, being open to new ideas and making good decisions. Pu-leeze.

The crowd applauded politely. But many could have been forgiven for wondering if Carroll has hit upon the profitable trick of talking in riddles, but leaving to his listeners all the hard work of actually doing something, making money and jobs while running coherent businesses. His audience know that they can't throw out their current business models unless they have new business models that will work. And the only example he gave of a new business model wasn't: he self-publishes his books now and sells them on Amazon.com.

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