Catastrophe

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Looks like we won’t be publishing on Monday…

Some 65 million years ago, an asteroid or comet crashed into Chicxulub on the Yucatan Peninsula in what is today Mexico.

The impact was so catastrophic that between the heat from the initial impact and the debris it threw up (enough dust into the atmosphere to block out the sun’s rays for many years); it effectively destroyed most life on earth.  This moment in time is today called the K/T boundary, one of the great extinctions on earth.

What happened was that a hiterhto unknown and unwanted event arrived to disrupt the relatively delicate ecology of the planet.  When the ecology was disrupted, most life forms, dependent on that ecology – in fact a product of that ecology, died.

Today, while we have not completely divorced ourselves from nature, we live in a world in which our own ‘ecology’ is far more the product of technology than the natural world.

This is a relatively new phenomenon for humans. For more than 1 million years, since we first stood erect on the savannahs of Africa and looked around, our world was shaped almost entirely by nature and the natural world – much as was the dinosaurs.  Civilization itself is only a mere 10,000 years old and even then, for some 9900 years of that, we were also an agrarian people, circumscribed by the vagaries of soil, rain and fertility.

The world we inhabit today only really begins to take shape some 100 years ago, or so, with the rise and ultimate conquest of the industrial revolution. Today, we live in a world that is almost entirely manufactured by.. us.  And as a result of that, our ‘ecology’, if you will, while as delicate as the dinosaur’s, is now far more a function of our technology than of the the frequency of the rain.

In a very strange way, our world is far more susceptible to disruption than it has ever been before. And we don’t have to wait for a meteor to destroy our technical/ecological balance.  We need only await the arrival of a new invention.

There is an old expression that says ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

In point of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Most inventions arrive unbidden and undemanded, and when they do, they tend to wreak a terribly destructive path over the existing environment in which we live and survive.

Take the Internet.

No one, really, was demanding an Internet.

There was no ‘necessity’ for an Internet.

And when it first appeared, there was little understanding of what it was and what it could or should do.

Yet it is quite clear now that the arrival of the Internet was for newspapers (and I believe television news), the equivalent of the arrival of the Great Comet for the Dinosaurs.  A brilliant flash in the sky that carried with it nothing but their own death and destruction.

For as the comet unleashed a cataclysm that destroyed the ecological world upon which the dinosaurs depended for their survival, so too the Internet has now unleashed a cataclysm that is destroying the very delicate technical ecology which allowed newspapers to flourish.  The fundamentals have been destroyed.

There is no ‘rescue’ for the newspapers, as there was no ‘rescue’ for the dinosaurs.  Both are doomed to extinction because their fairly fragile world no longer exists.

And, when the Great Comet struck Mexico 65 million years ago, only those species that were deep enough in the seas or burrowed deeply enough in the ground survived.  So too with the web and the media.

A world cleared of most land life became a place in which those small niche animals could now explode and dominate the planet.  A world cleared of conventional newspapers (and television networks – soon to go), will also be a place where now small and seemingly innocuous media animals will be able to flourish and grow.

It’s a cruel world.

It always has been, and it is unlikely that much will change.

Yet it is interesting to realize that each new invention, each new piece of technology that we so eagerly embrace as ‘cool’ carries with it the seeds of destruction for a part of the world we take for granted.  When we Skype, it carries with it the death knell of the phone company.  When we go to Craigslist, it carries with it the death of The New York Times.  Each time we go to Hulu.com, it brings the demise of the networks one step closer.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a constant reminder of the intense fragility of our technologically based world.  Things you thought were eternal and stable can end in a flash of light.

4 responses to “Catastrophe

  1. Eternal is a big word.
    Even bigger concept.
    Anyone who thinks anything in this world is eternal is….

    These times are fascinating. The internet (as we know it) has been around for what? About 15 years. (Funny side story…. when I bought my first computer, it came with a “map” of the World Wide Web. I got rid of the old computer, but kept that historical map. It is quite interesting to see what was on that old “map” and how it was laid out.

    Back to 2009.

    It is a new world.

    But from every indication, video seems to be one of the fundamental elements.

    And like in any business – supply and demand laws will be in control. Competition, quality, service and the product itself will become more critical.

    I don’t know if total distruction is at hand. Redefinition, evolution, yes. Extinction? Not convinced.

    Good to have you back in the saddle.

  2. Brilliant assessment as ever Michael. This is the year the house of cards topple for many newspapers in financial trouble. What will happen when a large town has no newspaper? It will be interesting to see what will feel the gap. I am hoping, as the ivory towers come down, that I still have a job as a visual storyteller–one that also pays the bills.

  3. A good read.

    Glad you’re back!

  4. Totally agree with you. Our local television station that was bought by a big network is on it’s last legs. There soon will be an opportunity to fill the local news void.

    As to Colins point. You may not have a job but I bet you’ll have lots of work! I bet you can figure out a way to get the work to pay the bills.🙂

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