In the prologue of his book “Free” Chris Anderson (author of The Long Tail, editor of Wired magazine and holder of a B.Sc Physics – George Washington University plus more…) states that the central question of this book starts with a loose end from The Long Tail. “My first book was about the new shape of consumer demand, when everything is available and we can choose from the infinite aisle rather than just the best-seller bin… there is only one way you can have unlimited shelf space: if that shelf space costs nothing.” And Anderson takes it from here.
Broadly Anderson defines the term FREE in three ways – free as defined by liberty or unconfined; free as defined by the cannons of freedom of expression and free as defined as having no cost or being a gift. He also distinguishes between the 20th century free with the 21st century free. Free in 20th century terms involves hidden costs (In other words, not free, just marketing or advertising free). 21st century free is an expectation that the digital generation has grown up with.
A similar idea is expressed by Alvin Toffler on the post-industrial society (The Third Wave) when he talks of mass customization offering a personalised product to a niche market. The Second Wave is industrial and mass. He states “The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration and synchronization, , and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureacracy.”
A tweet on http://twiter.com/WTFmediaconf compares Chris Anderson’s principle of free with Rupert Murdoch’s principle of payment for content. As Murdoch contructs paywalls around his newspaper and accuses Google and Microsoft of stealing journalism, he acknowledges the digital generation saying ” This new media audience – and we are talking here of tens of millions of young people around the world – is already using technology, especially the web, to inform, entertain and above all to educate itself.” (December 2, 2009)
In a post (June 14,2009) Seth Godin ranted about textbooks, particularly marketing textbooks which he stated were expensive, unable to provide insight or sell the topic as well as being incredibly impractical. He starts by saying that “assinging a textbook … is academic malpractice” and professors should publish online “for free… its part of their job” So over time this blog and all its posts will become a textbook – that is if I use it properly and make sure that it is reviewed constantly by my co-creators (students) who resemble closely Toffler’s prosumer. A prosumer is the amalgamation of the producer and the consumer.
Few would disagree with me if I said that technology has made information abundant and changed the publishing world completely. Publishing (newspapers et al) is under threat in its traditional format, textbooks are under threat in their traditional format and even the academic world is changing. No more are professors revered as keepers of knowledge. This knowledge in bygone eras was hard gathered as information was scarce. The internet offers this knowledge and more to all. So what then is the role of the future academic. Especially as ideas and new knowledge can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the careers or professions that are changing or becoming extinct due to the brave new world we live in.