Polymeme brought me to this post by Ethan Zuckerman, about the irrationality of newspaper advertising in a pay-for-performance world. I was interested to hear mention of the Berkshire Eagle, which was the local paper when I was growing up. In a nutshell, Zuckerman suggests that in an advertising world in which performance can be measured, the high costs of ads doesn’t support the expenditures required to publish the Eagle or, for that matter, the New York Times. Now it’s worth mentioning that the Berkshire Eagle is, as far as newspapers go, a hold-out of real local news in a relatively intelligent part of the country and that localism may go a long way to explaining the high cost of the ads. Still, Zuckerman has a good point: earlier models of cultural production don’t pay anymore.
But new models of cultural production don’t pay either. Although new models of cultural production employ a certain number of people, as Zuckerman points out with regard to his own online citizen media venture, the efficiency they create means they can run much more leanly than previous models and still reach the same audience numbers.
This sounds great, but what happens to the other jobs? Unfortunately, they aren’t needed anymore. New models of cultural production have streamlined them out of existence as effectively as the most ruthless downsizing strategies of the 1980s did to blue-collar jobs.
So now what? If employment in industry is long gone, is in free fall in finance, real estate, and construction, and is rapidly contracting in cultural production on what basis do economies exist?
My sense is that the long boom was not just the product of speculation. Rather, much of that speculation came out of a collective belief that technologies was leading to new efficiencies. This helped fuel the boom as some corporations were able to take advantage of that condition. But now what? The efficiency is largely there (unless you really think we need video teleconferencing, which I’ve had on my machine for three years now and used all of twice), the jobs have been eliminated, but the growth is gone. Is there any way to restart it?
This is a fundamental theoretical problem with Network Culture and I’m afraid I don’t see an easy answer out there.