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The Spectrum of Change


Previous webpage: Maelstrom as the Flow Changes

 “I wasalmost a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
— Nikolai Tesla about Thomas Edison’s exhaustive experimentations.

Access and choices of news, entertainment, and information for the majority of the world’s population has shifted from relative scarcity to surplus, even overload. More than three billion people can now—via desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone—access more news, entertainment, and other information than had ever before in human history been printed or broadcast. The ranks of these of people will increase to nearly six billion by the end of this decade because all mobile phones now being manufactured are smartphone models capable of accessing this newfound cornucopia of content.

This epochal shift in readily accessible supply of news, entertainment, and information began four decades ago: no more than a wink in human history yet more than a generation ago in the lives of humans today. The shift occurred so quickly that young adults have not known anything but surplus, yet so slowly that older adults are only beginning to perceive the profound changes it has wrought. This cognitive gap, more difficult to bridge than a mere generation gap, today rends the media industries. The older adults who lead these industries or teach media too often use outdated theories, doctrines, and practices rooted in the waning era of scarcity; yet the younger adults who staff and the students who’ll soon join those industries haven’t yet enough lifetime experience and wisdom to fully formulate new theories, doctrines, and practices that comprehensively explain exactly how these industries must adapt to the dawning era of surplus.

Four decades into the epochal shift, the majority of executives and scholars still don’t understand how this change from scarcity to surplus is radically altering the media environment. Although some of them perceive scarcity’s dusk, but most seem myopic to the remarkable transformations in media theories, doctrines, business models, practices, and products that are dawning from surplus. They instead misperceive New Media merely as electronic distribution platforms the traditional media products, practices, and business models that were conceived in and based upon the scarcities of the Industrial Era: in other words, Mass Media. Failing to perceive and adapt to the epochal change underway, they are leading their industries into obsolescence. Their declining circulations or listenerships or viewerships once adjusted for population growth, and their fading market capitalizations and equity prices without adjustment, all attest their misperception and failure. Many major U.S. media corporations, in tacit admission of failure to adapt, have traditional products’ declining revenues once adjusted for inflation, their products’ been jettisoning their eldest and formerly most robust media sector products, the sector that first directly encountered the epochal switch: their newspapers subsidiaries.

What you’re reading now is a primer about the epochal change underway in media, its many aspects, and what effects causes. This primer is condensed from the first month of the New Media Business postgraduate course that I’ve taught since 2007 at Syracuse University’s S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. It’s aimed at anyone who needs help perceiving the full spectrum of media change underway. In it:

  • I’ll outline the basic spectrum of change underway in the media environment (including some aspects or ‘colors’ not easily or normally visible).
  • I’ll delineate that spectrum into ‘color’ categories based upon whether aspects of that ‘color’ primarily affect consumer behavior, production and definition of content, or transaction and distribution of content.
  • I’ll describe why the epochal switch from scarcity to surplus in people’s access and choices of news, entertainment, and other information, has made very many, if not most, of the Industrial Era theories, business models, practices, and products, all colloquially known as Mass Media communications, which have dominated media for centuries, increasingly unsuccessful, archaic, or obsolete.
  • Likewise, I’ll specifically explain why a major effect of the changes underway is that general-interest Mass Media vehicles—such as newspapers, news magazines, and news broadcasts—are failing not only in their legacy forms but also when put online; and conversely why topical or ‘niche’ media in almost all forms are flourishing.
  • Finally, I’ll explain why traditionalists in the media industries need to abandon their nigh alchemical search for a business model that will let their traditional Mass Media doctrines, practices, and products thrive fundamentally unchanged in this new environment. If traditional media companies want to survive, they must embark upon a radical overhaul of their doctrines, practices, business models, products, and industrial infrastructures. Their embarkation is already overdue.

The starting point for all of that is to look beyond the superficial of changes. Let’s start by slaying a pernicious misperception. Virtually all traditional media executives and traditional media academicians mistakenly think that the major change underway in the media environment is that people are switching their consumption habits from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’. These academicians and executives see fewer and fewer consumers reading printed periodicals or listening to over-the-air radio broadcasts or watching over-the-air or cable television video programming, and instead see more and more consumers reading, listening, or viewing news, entertainment, and other information via personal computers, electronic tablets, smartphones. The executives and academicians thus myopically assume that an ‘analog-to-digital’ switch is the greatest change underway; that the greatest, most important, or even most motive change underway in the media environment is that billions of consumers are becoming ‘wired’ or ‘hooked-up’ or going ‘digital first’. Similar misnomers are media ‘convergence’ or ‘multimedia’, terms which nowadays belie an Industrial Era perspective on media.

Although it is true that billions of consumers are now consuming media contents via computerized devices, that change is incidental. Those billions of consumers aren’t switching to use of computerized device because consuming media via computerized devices is easier. The devices’ screens are smaller than most television screens, harder to read than a book or magazine, more expensive and fragile than paper, and require a live connection to the Internet. Besides, most consumers in developed countries had already had books, newspapers, magazines, and radio and television receivers in their homes. Nor are those billions of consumers switching to computerized devices necessarily to obtain multimedia; the vast majority of the contents they consume on these devices is monomedia—a video clip, a song, or a webpage with or without still photos. Nor are those billions switching necessarily because computerized devices necessarily because these computerized devices can provide them with more up-to-date or information while mobile: the vast majority of contents they consumer on these devices is no more up-to-date than a daily newspaper or news broadcast and the majority of usage consumers make of these device is at home or in their office. Billions of consumers aren’t switching their media consumption to computerized devices for the sake of ‘digital’ or ‘wires’ or ‘wireless’ or being ‘digital first’. They are switching their media consumption for an even greater reason: because these devices provide them with so much more news, entertainment, and other information than all the paper ever printed and all the radio and television broadcast ever made can. They switch because New Media not only gives them much more news, entertainment, and other information than traditional media can, but commensurately let’s each of them find a better match of that media content to their own individual mix of needs, interests and tastes. The sheer appeal of that, fulfilled by every-increasing progress of New Media technologies, has fomented the greatest change in the history of media.

Unfortunately, those media executives and media academicians who instead misperceive some sort of ‘analog-to-digital’ switch or being ‘wired’ or ‘hooked-up’ or ‘digital first’ (or even ‘desktop to mobile’) as the greatest, most important, or even most active change underway in the media environment are blinkering, if not blinding themselves, to this greatest change and its panoramic spectrum of effects on the environment. Such simplistic and seductive misperceptions are the worst miscalculations a media executive or academician can make today. Those misperceptions lead them into the grave error of thinking that the New Media are merely ‘digital’ distribution mechanisms that have arisen for their traditional contents and products (i.e., ‘How can we put our newspaper online?’ ‘How can we use Pinterest as part of our broadcast?’ ‘How can we promote our magazine on Twitter?’). This myopia prevents them from seeing the New Media have reshaped the media environment in ways that are alien to traditional media theories, doctrines, practices, and produces; fields in which traditional media are themselves alien and unsuitable for transplantation. Executives and academicians who misperceive this way miss the truly major opportunities and changes underway in this new era.

The switch from ‘analog to digital’ (my catch-all term for all those misperceptions) is but a single hue in a far more colorful, powerful, and complex spectrum of change underway. The world’s media industries are woefully overdue to examine the complete spectrum, which is why most media industries have become, to use another trite term, ‘disrupted’.

Next webpage: The Prism & New Media Chromodynamics

Index of the Rise of Individuated Media webpages

 © 2014


Personalization, Customization, Individuation, and New Media

Previous webpage: Social Media and Early Platforms for Individuation.

Many media executives and media academicians inadvertently conflate the differences between the terms personalization, customization, and individuation. The terms differ in meaning. Here is a primer about correct usage:

Personalization is a form of address or motif. Let’s imagine that your first name is John. You receive an unsolicited commercial postal letter (i.e., ‘junk mail’) that begins with ‘Dear John’ and that tries to entice you to purchase a product or service. Meanwhile, untold thousands of other people also receive the same unsolicited commercial letter, except that theirs begins with ‘Dear Susanne’ if their name is Susan or ‘Dear Mark’ if their name is market or ‘Dear Judy’ if their name is Judy, etc. That is a personalized letter. It’s a mass mailing of nearly identical content to thousands of people, with the only differences between the letters being that salutation in each uses its recipient’s name. Likewise, you might have or could receive a personalized gift such as a key fob embossed with your initials, or cuff links engraved with your initials, or golf balls on which your initials have been printed. Those gifts are basically identical gift that thousands of other people might have received, except for the initials.  These are examples of personalization, the hallmark of which is mass production of otherwise identical products, on each of which a recipient’s name or initials. The practice of personalization began mainly in the final century of the Industrial Era, when Mass Marketers began to realize that personalized (or customized or individuated) products are more attractive than impersonal or generic or common products of approximately the same price. Online products that use mere personalization aren’t per se innovative but merely online repurposing of marketing practices much older than their online producers. Although some might claim this is New Media, there is nothing new about it.

Customization differs from personalization in that some or much of the substance of what is received, not just its salutation, was specifically designed for that individual’s specific needs, interests, and tastes. This almost always starts with a common product that is then adjusted, generally by adding or removing parts or components, for whomever is to receive it. An off-the-rack dress that then is adjusted by a tailor for the purchaser’s body is an example. A home kitchen that is designed for that home owner, but which uses ready-made cabinets and mass-produced appliances, is another. Or a row of identical new homes, each of which is painted a color which that individual home’s new owner chooses, is another. Degrees of customization span a spectrum bordered on one end by personalization and on the other end by individuation. Customized products have existed for existed throughout the Industrial Era, if not earlier.

Individuation involves products that from the onset were specifically designed, or have immediately evolved to, the recipient individual’s unique needs, interests, and tastes. A bespoke suit or dress. A house designed and built to serve a specific individual. A sculpture fabricated for an individual purpose. Those are individuated, in contrast to merely personalized or customized, products. The term individuation comes from Jungian psychology in which it denotes the process by which the individual self develops out of an undifferentiated unconscious. In media, the term is used to describe the production of a product that is uniquely differentiated from any other according to its recipient’s individual mix of needs, interests, and tastes. Individuated products have existed since the beginning of tool-making humanity.

Many, if not most, Mass Media executives and mass marketers nowadays mistakenly use the terms personalization or personalized when they instead mean customization or customized.

Furthermore, the respective lengths of time in which people have been producing personalized, customized, and individualized products are counter-intuitive.  Humans have always had individuated products, starting with the first flint knives during the Neolithic Era. Customized products predate the Industrial Era, perhaps dating from hand-copied books, each of which might have been embellished with calligraphic designs and illustrations designed to fit its individual owners interests and tastes. Yet personalized products do date from the Industrial Era because the underlying basis of those are mass produced.

What has changed now that the Informational Era has begun is that individuated products can now be mass-produced.

Nevertheless, a trichotomy (three-part division) appears when the limitations of media during the Agrarian, Industrial, and Informational eras are examined:

  1. The primary mode of communications that existed during the During the Agrarian Era, (as well as earlier during prehistoric times, was Interpersonal. This is the aboriginal mode of communications, arising were basic animal communications, and predate humans and their technologies. It evolved into human language(s) in the form of human conversation. The Interpersonal mode is still the most basic and common medium of communication. Technologies have increased its speed and reach, via such vehicles as postal letters, telephone calls, electronic mail, text messaging (SMS), etc. The hallmark characteristics of the Interpersonal mode of media are that each participant has equal and reciprocal control of the content conveyed and that the content can be individualized to each participant’s unique needs, interests, and tastes. However, that equal control, as well as individualization of the content, degrades into cacophony as the number of participants increases beyond two. Although some marketers nowadays mistakenly refer to any online media as ‘one-to-one’ media, the only truly one-to-one modes of media are Interpersonal mode, such as those listed in the middle of this paragraph. A website that is communication with many users simultaneously is obviously engaged in ‘one-to-many’ communications.
  2. A second mode of communications also developed during prehistoric times and the Agrarian Era was the Mass I disagree with most media academicians that Mass Media originated during the Industrial Era; I use a much stricter definition of a mass. Mass Media predates mass production and even all technologies. The earliest forms of mass communications were the utterances and speeches of tribal leaders, kings, and priests. They communicated directly with their masses. Like the Interpersonal mode, the Mass mode isn’t necessarily dependent upon technology. For example, an actor or speaker can perform directly before a mass audience without any technologies. What technologies have done is extend the speed and reach of the Mass mode of communications. Forms of the Mass mode include oratory, sermons, edicts, scriptures, theater, books, newspapers, billboards, magazines, cinema, radio, television, bulletin boards, most webpages and streaming media. The Mass mode generally conveys content from a single person’s viewpoint (the orator, the actor, the author, the broadcaster, etc.) to many people simultaneously. Thus, the hallmark characteristics of the Mass mode are that exactly the same content goes to all recipients simultaneously and that the one who sends it has total control over the nature and substance of that content. The disadvantages of the Mass mode is that its communications cannot be individualized to each recipient’s unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes, and that the recipients have no control over that content.Note that the Interpersonal and the Mass modes have reciprocal advantages and disadvantages. For millennia until recently, people were limited to only those two modes of media. A person could communicate customized or individualized contents but generally just to one person at any time. Or else the person could communicate to many people simultaneously but not customize or individualize the contents for each individual recipient. There was no way to deliver truly individualized contents to many people simultaneously. That dilemma of media and marketing—customization/individuation versus reach—existed for millennia.
  3. Yet technology has not shattered that dilemma. The rise of computerization has made it possible to produce mass customization or mass individuation. This is the Individuated It combines the advantage of the Interpersonal and Mass modes but without their reciprocal disadvantages. The hallmark characteristics of Individuated mode is that highly customized or truly individualized contents can simultaneously be delivered to a potentially infinite number of people and that the consumer and the producer shares equal and equal or reciprocal control over those contents. Unlike the Interpersonal or Mass modes, the Individuated mode is entirely dependent upon technology, which is why it arose quite recently. It arose only during the Informational Era.[4]

Much as media and marketing companies have learned that personalized contents are more attractive to people than otherwise impersonal or generic or common products of approximately the same price and that customized products are even more attractive, it becoming obvious that truly individuated products are the most attractive.

Individuation is the true definition of the New Media plus a key to the future of marketing. For too many media executives, marketers, and academicians, the phrase New Media has become conflated and confused. Some use it simply as the combination of an adjective and a plural noun: there are new media. Online media are new media at the turn of the millennium, just as the telegraph and telephone were new media during the 1800’s. In that usage of the phrase, the meaning of New Media simply becomes a matter of chronology and those media to which it refers were be new media and then not new media. This meaning shouldn’t be capitalized: it should merely be new media rather than New Media. The meaning of New Media as capitalize must be more distinct and refer to a mode or a hallmark characteristic or attribute that is distinct from merely the passage of time or any past, present, or future technologies that eventually become historically ephemeral. That is why the definition of New Media mustn’t be tied to semaphore flags or telegraphs or radio or television or digital transmissions or electronic computers or any other technology that could obsolesce and become ephemeral in history.

For those reasons, I state that the definition of New Media is an entirely new mode of communications in which highly customized or even individuated contents can be delivered simultaneously to a potentially infinite number and that these consumers and the producers of the contents share equal or reciprocal control over the nature and transaction of those contents. This differs from Interpersonal Media (conversation, postal letter, telegraph, telephony, text messaging, etc.), in which both parties share equal and reciprocal control over the nature and transaction of the contents but in which the number of people to whom the contents can be communicated without cacophony is limited (normally no more than two and practically no more than a congress), and from Mass Media (oratory, edict, scripture, theater, book, billboard, newspaper, magazine, cinema, radio, television, most webpages, etc.), in which the producers of the contents hold virtually total control over the nature of the contents and preponderant control over the transactions of those contents.

As civilization evolves, it inevitably reaches a technological level at which communication that has mass reach but also simultaneous customization or individuation of that communication becomes possible. That level has been reached, a new era of communications begun.

Next webpage: The Maelstrom as Flow Changes

Index of the Rise of Individuated Media webpages

 © 2015