When Push Comes to Shove


By Jaron Lanier


It's a tree-huggers wet dream:


"Car and Driver" magazine considers it to be such big news that for the first time it overrides the format readers have come to know over the years. The article starts in a blaze on the cover and continues right from there, preempting even the table of contents.


"Mass Transit!" blares the cover. There's a psychedelic rendering of a bus ticket in front of a swirling route map. The article begins:


Remember when competing models of cars came out every year and fought for your attention? Well, forget all that. Cars are dead. And good riddance. Welcome to the new world of buses and trains.


Whoops, wrong industry!


What we have here is a tragic mis-alignment of corporate cultures. In the media and information industries, no one can figure out how to make real money off the most successful media innovation since television: the web. The web was adapted so quickly that it was a fait accompli before it made the cover of Wired. It happened so fast that millions of people were using it before anyone could design an advertisement about it. The damned thing was so successful that it raced ahead of both pundits and capitalism. It doesn't owe the industry any favors and it seems to know it.


The industry meanwhile is racking its brains trying to figure out where the money is in the web, and has now grown delusional from all the dents in its cortex. "Push" is not a technology, but a way of using technologies to make new media emulate old media. Unlike the web, push IS being pushed on users, for the simple reason that it would re-establish the old basis for making money from media. Push is an indictment of the business minds in the world of new media for failure of imagination. Unable to forge a new business model they're trying to tell the customer to want something different. Pathetic.


It's a shame because "push" ultimately will mean television all over again, since that's the only business model our moribund investment sector seems to be able to fathom. And television has turned out to be such a force of stupidity that it's made everything it touches stupid. It's the Midas touch of shit. Politics has been made more shallow, sex more calculated, violence more sensual. Please, please, Dear God let television die!


Meanwhile, over in the transportation sector, pundits are having exactly the opposite problem. While we've been successful at maintaining the ready availability and low price of gasoline, it's obvious that we can't keep on doing it forever. For one thing, we hide the true price from ourselves. We have to send the army around the world to fight and die for a non-renewable resource that we're squandering anyway. And the death toll from car accidents! Worse than from wars. Cars are so staggeringly expensive that if we saw the real cost we'd faint. And yet we just love our cars. The transportation industry can't even imagine a business model that would attempt to wean people from their beloved cars.


Web browser, car. See the connection? The appeal is similar. I go where I want. I am in control. I express myself by what I do. I exist. The browser is the car of media, while television is the railroad, which brought the masses and was controlled by the baron.


For the sake of the future of democracy and culture, and for the sake of the Earth and the well-being of our descendants, I propose a mass inter-sector exchange of pundits and investors. All the De Lorians, Iaccocas, ad execs, sleazy sales people, and slinky models who sell people freedom in the form of a product, please step over here, to Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Now, all the Murdochs, Turners, chip/OS cartel execs, pundits and venture capitalists, who are able to talk people into consuming as a mass mind, like herd animals at a trough, please settle down over there in Detroit.


The world needs you both, but you are in the wrong places. Switch!


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