Online Community vs Media Spectacle

By Christopher Locke
Lotus 1-2-3 drove the PC revolution in the early '80s by enabling knowledge workers to end-run the MIS bottleneck in large organizations. The professional edge this delivered translated into substantial career gains.

Today, people who work for a living -- and that's most of us -- face even greater livelihood challenges. Similarly, corporations that must remain innovative and awake to dynamic change -- and that's most of them -- face unprecedented challenges from a highly competitive global economy.

The real and lasting potential of the Internet lies not in TV Guide Online, Batman Forever, and other attempts to view this medium in the rear-view mirror of a rapidly passing mass-market broadcast paradigm. In contrast to such bread-and-circus entertainments, the real promise of the medium will be fulfilled within networked communities of practice that offer genuine professional advantage to individuals -- and concomitant competitive advantage to the organizations that employ them.

Wired-to-the-eyes websurfing reflects the novelty of the medium and the youthful enthusiasm of the current audience. Nothing wrong with that, though it is unlikely to last long in its present form. This enthusiasm is largely being coopted in an attempt to "package" audiences for advertisers. While the mass media were enormously successful at this in the past, deploying the same strategy online represents a serious misreading of the medium.

The enthusiasm being displayed here is a joyous reaction to the empowerment true interactivity confers: to connect, communicate, collaborate and conspire. Not in a solipsistic vacuum, but together with friends, colleagues, allies, partners, cronies, co-workers and every other stripe of association to which wide-area networking so wonderfully lends itself.

The long-term focus of these spontaneously evolving communities will be on turning shared enthusiasms into new means to assure professional viability. Compared to the glitzy online spectacles proffered by brand-crazed media moguls and their high-power public relations machines, this prediction may sound laughably trivial. However, I am convinced that this new opportunity for free and open knowledge exchange will drive a new age of learning and cultural evolution not seen since the High Renaissance. And anyone who doubts the commercial potential of such a prospect merely needs to read a little history.

Copyright 1995 Christopher Locke and Entropy Gradient Reversals. All Rights Reserved.