Decentralized power is THE issue of the new millennium

The idea that technology is increasingly enabling people to have more control over their lives threatens every institution that makes up the status quo, not just the media. Since the Internet first came on the scene, life as we know it has been fighting a life-and-death battle with a force it simply cannot control. Jeff Jarvis provided a taste of this force in a morning Buzzmachine entry:

At the journalism confab from which I just returned, one media exec raised what has become a standard complaint about all this new media: Fragmentation. It’s said as if that is an ill of the age. My answer: Turn that word around and look at it from the opposite perspective — from the individual’s perspective — and it’s really a question of control. The audience is moving to lots of new places now that they have the choice, now that they have control. The single, shared national experience we keep sighing about existed for only a few decades as we lived with three networks and fewer and fewer newspapers. The natural state of media is fragmentation: consumers gain choice, media loses control, citizens gain control. Fragmentation is good.
Decentralized power is THE issue of the new millennium, and it’s turning business in our culture on its profit-obsessed ear. People weary of paying for the lifestyles of the rich and famous are rebelling, and technology is providing the means.

Waaaay back in the 90s, auto dealers went to court to stop an aggregator site from listing vehicles for sale. It was an attempt to protect their institutions. Look around you now. The auto industry has been forced to jump headlong into Internet sales, because they couldn’t defeat the energy of people who want freedom from car lot manipulation.

The medical institution immediately created a lobbying organization — an arm of the American Medical Association — when medical information Websites started popping up in the 90s. Their mission? To pass laws that bring such sites under the purview of the institution. Of course, it’s all being done for the good of the public. Yeah, right.

Look at what’s happening with the recording and movie industries. While attention is diverted to illegalities, neither institution is willing to look at such things as crappy music and overpriced movies (with commercials added).

A story being circulated by Gannett News Service today tells of the lament of those who produce so-called “collectibles.” They’re complaining that eBay is killing their ability to control the market and hurting retail gift outlets.

Department 56, a leading maker of collectibles, reported that its net sales decreased $9.4 million, or 32 percent, this year to $20.2 million. The reason: Independent retailers are buying less, the company said.
American businesses look around and ask, “Why is this happening?” Because people have never liked being jerked around, and now there’s something they can do about it.

I was at the car rental place this morning, and a woman was there with a problem. She had planned a nice vacation up north, and — like a good consumer — took her car to one of those franchise lube places to have the oil changed before her trip. The car lasted until Michigan City, Indiana, where the engine seized up. The reason? No oil. Her call to the lube company was met with, “You’ll have to call customer service on that.” The line is, of course, relentlessly busy. This is what I mean about being jerked around. The MBAs and Gordon Gekko’s of the world are too busy squeezing every last ounce of profit out of their money trees to give a shit about the people who make them rich. This is rampant in our world, and people have had it.

Ditech allows people to apply for loans online, as lending institutions bid. Priceline has opened the eyes of many people to the mark-ups in the travel industry. Online banking is pulling back the curtain on secrets of the banking industry, and the political process is being influenced in ways it couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.

This is the reason I keep beating the same drum, over and over again. Ignore people at your own peril, and this especially applies to the media. In speaking with TV executives, I’m always amazed at how often business gets in the way of meeting the information and entertainment needs of people in the community. This joint operating agreement gets in the way of that service, and so forth. And these folks are actually surprised when they discover that people are fleeing from them like a cat running from a squirting skunk.

The user experience is EVERYTHING online. Tinker with it, and watch those “hits” shrink overnight. In fact, the user/consumer/customer is really what’s EVERYTHING today. We would all do well not to underestimate their power.

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