Welcome Nicco Mele (EchoDitto) (Harvard) (Twitter) and Host Symon Hill (SymonHill – blog) (Twitter)

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

Nicco Mele is a man who knows the internet. The webmaster for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004 and the founder of a leading internet strategy firm, his discussion moves between the effect of Twitter on news reporting, Hollywood’s relationship with Netflix and Al Qaeda’s use of YouTube. These are only three of the many examples which make this book so interesting. The big ideas are sustained by engaging anecdotes.

The theme of Mele’s book is the effect of “radical connectivity”, which he describes as “our breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly and globally”, thus transforming politics, business and culture.

His first chapter is both alarming and unsettling. He writes:

“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”.

But for Mele, this is not as positive as it may at first sound. He warns of “the ongoing destruction of existing big institutions that remain vital to upholding social order and the Western values of democracy”.

Each of the next seven chapters looks at some of the big institutions under threat: Big News, Big Political Parties, Big Fun, Big Government, Big Armies, Big Minds and Big Companies.

Mele freely acknowledges that he is more hopeful in some of these areas than others. When it comes to news, he fears that the decline of newspapers, along with other trends, will reduce the sort of journalism that works to uphold accountability in society. He is positive about the advantages of radical connectivity for political dissidents in oppressive regimes, but points out the downside: the same technologies “empower both sides of the equation – pro-democracy human rights activists and loose networks of terrorists”.

In contrast, he is much more optimistic about the effect on business. For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the book is Mele’s prediction that “Big Business will slowly decline over the coming decades”. He quotes some surprising statistics about the growth in small businesses and self-employment – in many cases helped along by the world wide web, which allows people to market and sell their products or services much more cheaply and easily.

If Mele’s predictions come true, then in twenty years time we might all be quoting a key paragraph from his book:

“If today, bloggers can publish anything at any time to any audience at zero cost, within the next twenty years everyone will enjoy the capability to be their own Walmart. As radical connectivity continues to advance, and as it increasingly comes to affect fabrication and manufacturing, anyone will be able to design and sell anything, and anyone else will be able to buy anything. That’s right – anything!”

Mele’s final chapter is as encouraging as his first is alarming. It is a passionate plea for people to use radical connectivity in ways that benefit individuals and society rather than harming them. He writes:

“We, not the technology, can bring about the cure by assuming control of the technology, embracing where it is taking us while also having the collective determination and strength of mind to steer it where we want”.

Mele wants us to use radical connectivity to affirm and strengthen existing democratic institutions while helping us to develop new institutions where appropriate. He explains:

“Resisting a radical, insular individualism, we must build institutions that encourage collaboration and accountability, locating such accountability in vast networks of small groups that share common culture and motives”.

His suggestions include developing mechanisms for holding to account the big companies that are on one level empowered by radical connectivity, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon (all of which are currently mired in scandal over tax avoidance, particularly in the UK). Mele believes that if people seize the opportunities afforded by “the end of Big”, they can reinvigorate a sense of community as well as the national institutions of the United States.

While I do not share Mele’s confidence in Western political institutions, I am inspired by his vision of the future. I am particularly encouraged by his understanding of the ways in which the end of big business will help the world to face the crises of climate change. “We can only hope to transform our current fossil fuel-based economy into a more sustainable system if we move collectively to small, sustainable local energy sources,” he writes. “We need to build more sustainable, local food production and distribution.”

Like all good books, The End of Big left me with as many questions as answers. In particular (speaking as someone who lives in Britain), I want to ask Nicco Mele whether his predictions and suggestions are just for the US, for the West generally or for the whole world. I also wonder how radical connectivity relates to other causes of the situations we currently face (for example, the breakdown of trust in powerful institutions has been hastened by the banking crisis). And I’m worried that climate change might threaten radical connectivity if failure to invest in renewable energy leads to major electricity shortages.

These are some of the many topics that I look forward to discussing with Nicco Mele. If his answers are as interesting as his book, they will be well worth listening to.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

99 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Nicco Mele, The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath”

BevW May 26th, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Nicco, Welcome back to the Lake.

Symon, Welcome to the Lake, and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:
To follow along, you will have to refresh your browser:
 PC = F5 key, MAC = Command+R keys

If you want to ask a question
– just type it in the Leave Your Response box & Submit Comment.


If you are responding to a comment – use the Reply button under the number,
then type your response in the box, Submit Comment. (Using Submit Comment will refresh your browser when you reply to a comment/ask a question.)

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Thanks, Bev. It’s good to be here.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Looking forward to the discussion.

dakine01 May 26th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon Nicco and welcome back to FDL this afternoon. Symon, welcome to Firedoglake.

Nicco, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but I have to say, based on the Intro from Symon this afternoon, I for one do not perceive a problem with some of the “big institutions” being under threats. Big News, Big Companies, Big Political parties, Big Government, and Big Armies have all repeatedly shown incapable of actually functioning these days in a way to most benefit the most individuals, both within the US and around the world.

Why is it a bad thing for these various institutions and groups to be threatened given how they are operating in today’s world? (I’m not talking about the utopian world where groups like News, government, companies are part of a traditional checks and balances and not using their thumbs on the scales as they do today)

bluewombat May 26th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

If I type quickly enough, maybe I can get in the first question.

President Obama has asked Congress to grant him internet kill-switch authority, or words to that effect, under which he could shut down the internet — presumably if bad guys in turbans furiously typing away at their keyboards are about to visit unspecified harms upon the glorious homeland.

Being the cynic that I am, though, I wonder if he really wants that authority in case people start coalescing around the idea that the US government now serves transnational corporations rather than its own citizens and appear to be on the verge of doing something about it.

Two questions:

1) Has Congress granted Obama (and future presidents) this authority?
2) Do you think there’s something to my hypothesis, or do you feel it belongs in the tin-foil hat division?

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:03 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

It’s good to be here as host at FireDogLake Book Salon. Pleased the questions are already coming!

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:05 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

I think that’s a good question. It’s something that occurred to me as I was reading the book as well (although I think Nicco has more confidence in some of the institutions he mentions than in others).

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:05 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Nicco doesn’t appear to be here yet but hopefully he’ll be joining us in a moment!

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Great question, @dakine01 – the truth is that part of my argument is that the big institutions failed long before the technology came along. The technology simply provides an alternative to opt-out. Take journalism, for instance: corporate consolidation and a push for 30%+ profit margins played a dramatic role in destroying newspapers in this country, long before technology disrupted the industry.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:07 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 5

Interesting question. I’m sure that Nicco will be here in a moment with some thoughts on it.

It’s a big debate at present over here in the UK. The coalition government is split on the question of a new law on internet control.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 9

Hi Nicco.

Following up on that, would you say that radical connectivity is only one of the reasons for the decline of these big institutions?

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

The issue is that the institutions had an important role in the first place — so even if they’ve failed, and people are using technology to opt out, we still need the purpose and values behind these institutions. Take higher education for example — the cost of a 4 year college education is more expensive than ever, with a plummeting real-world value. A recent Department of Labor report said 19% of parking attendants in the US have a 4 year college degree and a bundle of debt. That’s not technology’s fault. Technology is providing alternatives — like online education, Udacity, Coursera, etc. — but the original values of higher education remain important.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Thanks, Nicco. Perhaps you could explain a bit more about your concept of “radical connectivity”, for the benefit of readers who haven’t yet read your book?

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 5

Another good question. In general, I am concerned about the ongoing consolidation of executive power in this country. It started decades ago — but it continues to accelerate. And with a decline in accountability journalism, not to mention the other institutions of our time, the consolidation of executive power is especially concerning. In the book, I talk about how much WhiteHouse.gov has changed. On the one hand, the executive branch is more accessible to the public than at any other time in American history. But by the same token, the President is able to build a direct communications channel directly with the public — a further concentration of power.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 10

It’s interesting: US attitudes about the first amendment are very different from European attitudes about free speech. This is coming into focus in the ongoing debate over the “even bigger” internet platforms like Facebook and Google — and how they decide to take things down. A recent article in the New Republic by Jeffery Rosen is very good on this subject: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113045/free-speech-internet-silicon-valley-making-rules

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:15 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 15

Thanks for the link. I’ll have a look. Could you elaborate a bit on your point about the differences between US and European attitudes on this?

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:15 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 13

“Radical Connectivity” is a term I came up with to try to describe what our technology is doing to power: it is shifting power from institutions to individuals, with a dramatically decreased transaction cost to form groups. It’s not really the “internet” that changed things, it’s more than that. But the word “smart phone” isn’t strong enough either. We’re simply lacking the language to really cover the changing role of technology in our society and its impact on power.

bluewombat May 26th, 2013 at 2:15 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 14

Ah, you’re the same Nicco from Howard Dean 2004. That was fun while it lasted.

Ummn, you didn’t exactly answer my questions: Has Obama been granted kill-switch authority by Congress? Do you think it’s with the aim of short-circuiting popular discontent with our government if it starts to coalesce?

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:16 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 17

I think it’s a very helpful term. I agree that “the internet” doesn’t quite cover it.

Synoia May 26th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

pro-democracy human rights activists and loose networks of terrorists

What is the difference between groups, other than their perception of lack of empowerment? Today’s activist leader can either be tomorrows political leader or tomorrows terrorist leader.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:22 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 16

In Europe, in part due to the legacy of World War 2, there is a huge sensitivity to hate speech. There are also significantly stricter laws re: libel. In the US, the tradition of the First Amendment generally provides a much higher threshold for companies like Facebook or Google to remove material from their platforms. This has been true for a long time, but the way radical connectivity flattens accessibility to media online means that this differences come into sharp focus. If you add other nations — especially more authoritarian ones — to the mix, it raises even more issues for the “Even Bigger”, the seven companies that control our online public space: Amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft/Skype, and Twitter.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:22 pm
In response to Synoia @ 20

I think that’s a good question. Can I suggest the difference is not as clear cut as it perhaps in your book, Nicco?

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:24 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 21

That’s really interesting, especially your point about world war 2 and hate speech. As you say, we have very strict libel laws in the UK, which are unfortunately used mostly by the wealthy to try to avoid criticism. There’s a big campaign here to get them reformed.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:25 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 18

To directly answer your question: I don’t think he’s been granted kill-switch authority, but I’m not an expert in any way on the issue. I don’t think it is explicitly about short-circuiting popular discontent.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:25 pm
In response to Synoia @ 20

Hard question – what do you think? The reason I wrote the book was to encourage discussion on these exact kinds of questions.

bluewombat May 26th, 2013 at 2:26 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 24

Ah, thank you.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 21

Further to that, the interaction between social media and libel in the UK is particularly interesting. On a number of occasions recently, wealthy individuals have taken out injunctions to prevent newspapers mentioning certain things about them, only to find that the information in question is all over Twitter instead.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:29 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 22

The core values of our institutions were designed to encourage a certain framework for politics: for discussion, for dissent, for policy-making. The goal was to create a process to ensure that today’s activist leader would become tomorrow’s political leader — a system that had a process that created integrity. The trouble is, the process isn’t working.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 28

I agree the process isn’t working, though I’m not persuaded that was always the goal. But thanks for explaining your view.

spocko May 26th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I like the idea of people powered radical connectivity. What I’ve found is that it can be very effective in some cases. Where I see it fall apart is when the attention needs to be turned into action.

So for example we can get congress’ attention but if we don’t have leverage, they can still ignore us over someone who they feel has more leverage.
Universal background checks had 90% support. But the money from the arms makers won. They pointed to future funding (or lack thereof) and no amount of emails, tweets, polls or Facebook shared could compel them to pass a new law.

So I think that linking into the existing institution is very important. So if we want to prosecute bankers how do we support the institutions that will do that? Have the prosecutors faced any consequences from us for not going after Wall Street? No. But they do face consequences if they go after Wall Street. Look at Elliot Spitzer.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Can I ask you more about your chapter on “Big Companies”, in which you predict the end of big business. You’ve mentioned the “even bigger” companies such as Facebook, Google, etc. Can you say a bit more about the connection between radical connectivity, the end of big business and the future of these massive corporations.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:33 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 27

More interesting to me is the role that the big technology companies play – the “Even Bigger”, the seven companies that control our online public space: Amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft/Skype, and Twitter. They could operate independent of our nation-states, if they wanted to. How do they navigate their power? How do WE want them to navigate that power?

JamesJoyce May 26th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

It is the free exchange of ideas which threatens power. Americans would not know of workers crushed in a building collapse making cheap garments for wall mart’s customers decades back. They dont want you to know either…..

Shut off the power and control the technology. Monopolies control internet access with fees and reduce connectivity by with legal and physical impediments. It will be a war people will lose and corporations will win unless things change. Censorship is a key tool of power, to limit ideas and information. Corporations should not be permitted to do what government cant do! Animals in need of regulation as dog needs a collar.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 32

Indeed. We need to hold corporations to account as well as governments. There’s a paradox in using the internet to hold corporations to account, when this means relying on massive corporations (such as those seven companies) while you’re doing so.

BevW May 26th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Do you a see a growing division of people with access to the internet, an inequality of access? Either through education or economic issues? Or does the “voices of the many” overcome the obstacles?

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:36 pm
In response to spocko @ 30

That is exactly the point of my book. Social media isn’t very old. It does not have norms, values, or institutions with integrity. At the same time, our institutions are out of sync with the reality of our times.

PriscillaQOB May 26th, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Nicco, I see where you mentioned higher education above, and specifically online learning. As a public school teacher I am particularly concerned about the intersection between big business and public education in the USA. Big Business, through groups such as ALEC, the Business Roundtable, and the Chamber of Commerce, is attempting to take over and destroy public education in this country and replace it with for-profit, market-driven, private enterprises and they are using big technology, such as virtual schools, online testing, data mining apps (like inBloom), and other technologies to accomplish their goals.

Many parents and those who’ve dedicated their lives to education see this as total antithetical to the original purposes of public education which were to create an educated populace that would be better able to involve themselves in civic and political issues. Could you elaborate your feelings about this particular intersection and how technology is enabling it?

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 36

That’s a good point. So how do we develop norms and values for social media?

spocko May 26th, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 36

Great. Now I’ll have to read it. :-)

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to spocko @ 39

It’s well worth it! I found that even the parts I disagreed with were really engaging.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 31

I should add that there is a small but important caveat in the End of Big Companies: there are going to be a handful of “Even Bigger” companies that are the platforms for the digital age. I’ve mentioned a few already, but there are others (like Alibaba.com). Traditional companies that assume that scale gives them advantage, that scale can help them overcome barriers of entry to the marketplace and keep them competitive: well, I’m not entirely sure how true that assumption is. But there is a new kind of economics emerging, one that is built on “small pieces loosely joined”(to quote David Weinberger), one that assumes the “long tail” is where the power & profit reside.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:41 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 41

And is that assumption more accurate than the older assumption about scale?

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:41 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 34

I think you’re on to something essential: how do we hold power accountable? Many of the old ways we do this aren’t working, or are simply in decline… but we haven’t entirely developed new ways, especially where the Even Bigger digital platforms are concerned. Rebecca MacKinnon has written eloquently about this in her book, “Consent of the Networked”.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:43 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 43

Thank you. I’ve not read Rebecca MacKinnon’s book. I think I had heard of it, but after reading about it in your book, I’m keen to read it.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:44 pm
In response to BevW @ 35

Ack. What a hard question. I’d like to believe that the “voices of the many” will overcome the obstacles… but I’m growing increasingly concerned that it won’t, especially in the United States, where high speed internet access is more and more expensive and less and less “high speed”. In the end, justice is essential — and if connectivity is an essential part of justice in the future, then we need to make sure connectivity is evenly distributed.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 43

You make a really important point here (and in your book): the old ways are in decline, but we don’t know what the new ways are. Will we take control and develop new ways that benefit society, or will we let big businesses and governments choose the way for us?

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to PriscillaQOB @ 37

I’ll repeat myself a bit: higher education has failed. It’s not doing its job. But I’m convinced the emerging alternatives — many of them private sector — are the solution. I see them as evidence of how broken the system is, not as an emerging solution.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:49 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 47

Sorry; I’m a bit confused there. Do you mean you’re not convinced or you are convinced (that they’re the solution)?

Phoenix Woman May 26th, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Hello, Nicco and Symon!

Nicco, do you discuss open-source 3D printing in your book? What’s really exciting to me is that an outfit called Filabot is making it possible for Makerbot and other 3D printing enthusiasts to take virtually any kind of plastic — including all the ones that most municipal recyclers won’t touch — and turn it into 3D printer filament:

http://www.filabot.com/

(On edit: Right now they’re just selling filament to people, but they’ve used Kickstarter to finance the making of 67 filament makers which they will be sending out soon. After that, they’re going to start selling the machines to the general public.)

Imagine a few hundred thousand people reusing plastics instead of sending them into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Hell, it may soon be that fishing trawlers could use the plastic already in the patch to make filament to fix their fishing nets.

And I’m barely scratching the surface here.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 49

At the risk of answering for Nicco, I found this one of the most interesting parts of his book (in Chapter 8).

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 45

This leads on to the question of those parts of the world in which few people have internet access. I think I’m right in saying that in global terms, just over a third of people have internet access. There’s been a sharp increase recently in the number of people with mobile phones, particularly in parts of Africa and south Asia. If these phones become linked to the internet, this could lead to the next big growth in internet access. Or am I being too optimistic?

spocko May 26th, 2013 at 2:51 pm
In response to JamesJoyce @ 33

. Censorship is a key tool of power, to limit ideas and information. Corporations should not be permitted to do what government cant do!

Good point. Today I just heard about a massive oil spill back in 2006. 4 Million gallons of oil in Lake Charles

An interview with one of the clean up workers said that it was amazingly kept out of the press using a combination of legal threats and pay offs. If “the people” were the press they might have gotten more of the story out, but because ‘News Copter 7′ didn’t do a fly over of the spill, the company was able to argue that the spill was smaller that it was. No evidence in the media led to smaller fines. BTW, that is why Exxon created the “no fly zone” over the last pipeline spill. The good news is that soon we will have our own private drones to expose them! Just strap an iPhone to a Quadcopter and overfly the damaged area, put it up on Youtube and voila!
However we still need our institutions to force fines. Regulator capture and owned congress people are still a problem, so it’s really not ‘voila!’

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:53 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 46

I’ll be honest: the weakest part of the book is where I try to imagine solutions. But in truth, that’s our shared task: to imagine the future, to build (or reform) our institutions to bring about the kind of world we want to live in. I suggest a few parts of the solution in my final chapter. One of the things I think matters most is to think about the power that every individual with a smart phone carries around with them — and how to harness that power towards core values with integrity. In the era of radical connectivity, where 130 million Americans have smartphones with the approximate power of a Cray Supercomputer, people are going to participate in the moment — to help investigate the crime, or to break the news. The desire of people to participate isn’t going away — it is only going to grow. We need our institutions and our leaders to develop ways of channeling people’s energy to help and extend the resources of law enforcement, journalism, and other institutions. People want to do something in the moment — and if we don’t give them things to do, they’re going to find ways to help

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 53

Good answer! I don’t think that aspect of the book is weak; thinking about solutions is bound to be less precise than describing problems. I found the final chapter very encouraging.

thatvisionthing May 26th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 41

“long tail” — ?

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 48

What do we want out of education? What is its purpose? In part, it is preparation for the work force. It is also credentialing. In part, a purpose of education is civics. The sheer joy of learning is important. In higher education, basic research is an important part of the institution. I am not necessarily opposed to for-profit education — as long as we understand what we want out of it, and how it fits in to these larger issues.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Can I raise a question about the book’s focus? To what extent do you think the book’s analysis relates to the world as a whole, or just to the West, or only to the US?

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 2:59 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 49

I’ve got a couple of 3-D printers – most recently a http://cubify.com – it prints using a compostable plastic made from starch. I recently printed sandals for my boys, for the summer. It definitely opens up a lot of options — but I also think it could have some profound implications for the future of work. And there is this guy in Texas – http://defdist.org – who is printing semi-automatic machine guns, and freely distributing the blueprints to anyone with a 3-D printer. As much opportunity as it creates, it also opens a range of important questions that, quite frankly, our leaders and our institutions simply aren’t addressing.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:00 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 58

Indeed. The ability to create sandals is encouraging. The ability to create guns is worrying.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

The Long Tail – it’s an idea that Chris Anderson put forth about the “new” economics of the internet. The technology changes the economics of business: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html
To put it simply: a brick-and-mortar book store can only stock a limited number of titles and consequently mostly stocks bestsellers; an online book store can stock an infinite number, and can therefore stock titles that only sell one or two copies: the “long tail” of demand.

thatvisionthing May 26th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 60

Hasn’t that made Amazon only bigger?

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 60

Which suggests that technological change, if we use it the right way, can restore some of the benefits of small businesses (such as specialist bookshops) that were in the past swamped by big businesses.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 57

I was born in Ghana, and grew up in Southeast Asia. But my professional adult experience is entirely in the United States. A big weakness of the book is its Western focus, and in particular its US focus. Almost every chapter mentions some of the international implications, but it is not central to the book. I think that many of the trends of radical connectivity bring the same questions in every country: the emergence of mobile banking in Africa raises questions about traditional economies and even monetary policy. Certainly, we can see the destabilization of institutions in the impact of the Arab Spring. But the nuances of my argument and observation are definitively US-focused.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I think the key thing is keeping control of the way it happens. I’m alarmed by the dominance of Amazon, but I’m pleased that some specialist bookshops have managed to survive by going online (although I would like to see more surviving on the high street too).

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:06 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 63

Thanks; that’s helpful.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

By far the most interesting (and encouraging) aspect of the book for me was your comments on alternative economic systems that will be sustainable in the face of climate change. You suggest that radical connectivity will help these new forms of economics to develop. Can you say a bit more about this for the benefit of readers who haven’t read the book yet?

thatvisionthing May 26th, 2013 at 3:14 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 63

I was just watching a segment on Melissa Harris Perry with a panel talking about Apple’s avoidance of taxes by creating stateless companies with no employees as a way to stash profits. One answer that was suggested — wish I could remember how it worked — was where individual countries imposed an upload tax, sounded Internety? Point was it wasn’t income tax, which is how all the scams work. Do you know what I’m talking about, and does it fit with your theories? I think this is the URL but I hate to click it again and start the msnbc autoplay crap

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/46979745/vp/51999698#51999698

Phoenix Woman May 26th, 2013 at 3:15 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 58

The thing about plastics is that as oil energy costs grow, shipping things from China and elsewhere gets to be more pricey — and since it takes weeks for a container barge to cross the Pacific, it’s not good for folks who need a quick turnaround time. (That’s why car makers and appliance makers try to build their products, whereever practicable, near their target markets: the things are too heavy to ship for the prices they bring, whereas computers and cellphones are more lucrative per shipping pound.)

As for guns, you know who this should really frighten? The gun manufacturers and retailers.

Here’s the deal: Just as bars make their big money from alcoholics, gun manufacturers and retailers make their big money from the hardcore gun nuts — the ones that buy shitloads of guns. This is especially true nowadays as far fewer people overall buy guns, but the ones that do tend to buy lots of guns.

The 3D gun printing clubs are just the sort of thing that will appeal to Big Gun’s bread and butter.

thatvisionthing May 26th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 64

I miss Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks movies. Would love a sequel to You’ve Got Mail where the neighborhood children’s bookstore makes a comeback.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Now there’s an idea! You should read Nicco’s chapter on radical connectivity’s threat to Hollywood and think about how to make it!

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:19 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 68

That’s a really interesting point that I had not thought of. I live in Britain, where the situation is different due to tighter restrictions on gun ownership that 3D printing could undermine.

thatvisionthing May 26th, 2013 at 3:20 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 70

What would Nora Ephron do?

think…

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Are you still here, Nicco? We don’t seem to have heard from you for a while, so I’m concerned there’s a technical problem. Of course, you might still be writing answers to our long list of questions!

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 3:26 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 66

Our economy and our civilization is at a critical juncture. As Bill McKibben related in Rolling Stone magazine: “June [2012] broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe….” We have a moral imperative to move away from oil, and radical connectivity can unlock a range of opportunity in the small – from sharing to more vibrant local economies. Most of our modern institutions were designed from a lens of scarcity rather than abundance. We need to start thinking about alternative ways of organizing our economies, and our work, to acknowledge and take advantage of technology. Failure to act will in all likelihood result in environmental conditions that, as McKibben asserts, are straight out of science fiction. Yet the End of Big in business can create another future we can only barely grasp today, one potentially much closer to our dreams. It’s this future that I encourage you to embrace—and even further, to help imagine.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Interesting idea about Apple’s tax avoidance. International NGOs such as Christian Aid and Action Aid have come up with many suggestions for ways in which governments can prevent corporate tax dodging. Unfortunately, I suspect many governments are too close to the big companies concerned to want to do much about it (that’s certainly the case here in the UK).

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 3:28 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 73

Still here! It’s funny, to the thread on making movies, did you hear about the movie that started as a thread on reddit? http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/films/reddit-thread-to-be-turned-into-a-film

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:28 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 74

I find that very, very encouraging. I agree that radical connectivity could help to lead us to more sustainable economics. However, is there a danger that failure to invest in renewable energy could result in power shortages that will disrupt radical connectivity?

thatvisionthing May 26th, 2013 at 3:28 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 70

Plus I hope he’s got something in that chapter for animation – Hollywood animators keep getting laid off in batches of hundreds. I get the feeling that the brains on top are getting to be disconnected – something’s wrong. Meanwhile all that creative energy going to waste. I’m … angry. I guess I feel that way about all the unemployed, underemployed, just a stupid waste, but an interesting one, the way a broken-down car might look interesting to a mechanic. I bet I’d love this book.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 3:30 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 77

Yes, but… the main focus of my argument is that technology shifts power from institutions to individuals — from giant, institutional super-computers to individual smart phones. This shift also encompasses power generation — we are capable of producing the power to fund our own devices. It is the institutional, the large scale enterprise, the corporate power, that is the challenge. For example, look at this soccer ball that converts kinetic energy into a charge for your phone – itself funded by kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/unchartedplay/soccket-the-energy-harnessing-soccer-ball/

thatvisionthing May 26th, 2013 at 3:32 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 74

Did you see Who Killed The Electric Car? There were alternatives to oil being developed in the ’90s, and then Big — big oil, big auto — killed them. The electric car, the battery technology, the alternatives. I think they’re trying to kill Tesla now, saw a headline about that I think, new legislation. That’s what I’m afraid of. I’d have thought by now we would be seeing more small solutions to energy, but it all looks pretty weak. I met a guy who’s involved in algae biofuel and his story sounded like WKTEC all over again, bought by Big, buried by Big.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 79

Ah, that makes things clearer! Thanks for the explanation. If you’re suggesting that the shift also means that power generation is itself becoming more possible for individuals, small groups and local communities, that’s really exciting (sorry I’d not understood this part of your argument). However, do you think the degree of change will happen in time? (I’m not saying it won’t; I’m just wondering).

Phoenix Woman May 26th, 2013 at 3:35 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 71

It’s already against the law in the UK and USA to own a gun made post-1968 (in the UK’s case) without a serial number. Since the main entities that would be interested in using serial-numberless guns are right-wing “freedom fighter” types that love to preach armed insurrection and organized crime outfits, a strict application of these laws could be used to crack down on both of these groups.

In the US, Big Gun is — quietly and behind the scenes, so as not to let their customer base know about it — already working with various governmental interests to suppress the 3D gun makers, and scuttlebutt is they’ll go after them via copyright law.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:37 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 82

That’s helpful to know. Thanks.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 3:38 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 81

Right now you get your power from a fossil-fuel power plant owned by a big utility or power company. But your neighborhood could set up a shared solar installation to create power for nearby homes (using the blueprints and guidance of the crowd-sourced online community Solaroof.org), and could even conceivably sell that power to other nearby neighborhoods – puncturing the model of Big Power.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 3:39 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 82

My larger point is that “strict application of these laws could be used to crack down on both of these groups” — well, i’m not sure how easy that would be to do… the technology provides all kinds of ways of routing around traditional institutions.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:40 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 84

Sounds great!

BevW May 26th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 84

As an example – Marin County, CA, the local government is providing their own “green” power to the community. PG&E, the state power company tried to stop break-away counties with a ballot initiative (which failed).

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 84

I’ll have to have a look at some of these online communities such as Solaroof.

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to BevW @ 87

Interesting (and I’m glad it failed).

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I realise there’s not too much time left, Nicco, but I’d like to ask you briefly about the economic crisis of the last few years, following the banking crash of 2007-08.

To what extent can the decline in trust in our traditional institutions be attributed to events such as the banking crash as well as the development of radical connectivity? And do you see any connection between the two? I’m aware that money in today’s global economy involves numbers zooming around the world on computer screens in ways that may have harmful effects very quickly if used badly. I dare say this goes back to your point about choosing how we use technology, so as to benefit society rather than to harm it.

thatvisionthing May 26th, 2013 at 3:47 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 84

Southern California here. Wish I could speak authoritatively on this, but this is fuzzy. We get greenwashed projects like Sempra Energy’s Sunrise Powerlink that we can’t stop locally and which guarantees profits to them paid by captive taxpayers. It’s like it’s rigged, and the riggers greenwash it. In actuality those lines will carry energy from burning natural gas in Mexico. So we just bought into more fracking and irredeemable pollution, globally. One of the alternatives that was proposed was local rooftop energy, including at the individual level via solar or rooftop wind turbines, and one of the ways it was supposed to work was that individuals could sell energy back to Sempra – pull/push. But I think Big can buy the laws that won’t let that happen, or happen effectively. Did you look at those processes? You can probably tell me what I’m trying to say. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Gov. Schwarzenegger and guests drove in or coptered in, but the protesting public was kept away by armed police at locked gates.

BevW May 26th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

As we come to the last few minutes of this great Book Salon discussion,

Nicco, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and our future.

Symon, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Nicco’s website and book (The End of Big)

Symon’s website and book (Digital Revolutions)

Thanks all, Have a great Holiday weekend.
If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Thanks, Bev, Nicco and everyone else! It’s been good to discuss these issues with you all.

Nicco Mele May 26th, 2013 at 4:00 pm
In response to Symon Hill @ 90

Thanks, what a great chat! I’m @nicco on twitter if you want to continue the discussion. Symon, to your last question: I’d recommend Jaron Lanier’s “Who owns the future?”, just out (there was even a FDL book chat about it yesterday!). He talks about how the technology is disrupting the middle class, and how a handful of financial players used it to their advantage and precipitated the financial crisis. Looking forward to continuing the discussion – nucco

Symon Hill May 26th, 2013 at 4:04 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 94

Thanks, Nicco! I saw the book mentioned on FDL and I’ll have a look at it. Sounds very interesting.

If any readers would like to continue discussions with me, I’m @SymonHill on Twitter. I hope to be on FDL Book Salon again soon, discussing my book Digital Revolutions: Activism in the internet age (http://newint.org/books/politics/digital-revolutions).

Goodbye all and (from London, where it’s gone midnight), goodnight!

JamesJoyce May 26th, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Did you see Who Killed The Electric Car? There were alternatives to oil being developed, and then Big killed them. The electric car, the battery technology, the alternatives. I think they’re trying to kill Tesla now, saw a headline about that I think, new legislation. That’s what I’m afraid of. I’d have thought by now we would be seeing more small solutions to energy, but it all looks pretty weak. I met a guy who’s involved in algae biofuel and his story sounded like WKTEC all over again, bought by Big, buried by Big.

Corporations, patent protections and monopolies. Corporation which gain monopoly use patent protection to limit competition. For instance capacitors and Standard Oil, a one time monopoly in liquid potential energy.

Graphite-elastomer sandwich as impervious connector for an electrical capacitor
http://www.google.com/patents/US4023079

Meet the scientific accident that could change the world
http://io9.com/5987086/meet-the-scientific-accident-that-could-change-the-world

Graphene super-capacitor, carbon based… Right up Tesla’s ally!
Who Killed the (75% efficient) Electric Car? I wonder if Big would kill an accident that could change the world? I wonder if Big could be “big” and not so “small” most of the time?

LeatherBoss May 26th, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I’m curious how Mr. Mele can come to these conclusions, seeing as though big business and the unpleasant side of the government both have proven remarkably adaptable at coopting the internet for their own ends.

As one example, the rise of social networks like Facebooks have only made people much more willing to part with personal information on a scale unheard of a mere 10-15 years ago, which has proven a boon to government surveillance.

On the business end of things, the rise of the internet coincided (and in my opinion, aided and abetted) with the continued rise of monolithic, monopolistic big box retailers like WalMart.

bartelby May 26th, 2013 at 8:10 pm

hmmm…The End of Big. And you can buy his book on strong>AMAZON.COM for 12.95 (used, good condition) plus shipping. Yippie Abbie Hoffman wrote a book in 1971 titled “Steal This Book.” According to Wiki it sold a quarter million copies.

Phoenix Woman May 27th, 2013 at 7:11 pm
In response to Nicco Mele @ 85

Oh, it’ll happen. No way will Big Gun let its bread-and-butter market go without a fight to the DIY movement. That’s why they’ll use copyright and/or patent law to shut them down — they’ll argue that the gun designs used by the DIY 3D printers are copies of designs that are still under patent or copyright.

And just you wait until the first crime is committed using a 3D printed gun made from one of these templates! That will spur laws designed to put making a serial-numberless gun in this fashion right up there with high treason in terms of punishments — and Big Gun will back all of them, or at the very least won’t stand in their way.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post