Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Paradigm shifts always provoke resistance

When Copernicus suggested that the Earth traveled around the sun, people freaked out. When people began to suggest that the Earth was round rather than flat, people freaked out. Today people are freaking out when it's suggested that oil won't last much longer.

Any time new ideas, new approaches call into question something previously held sacred or provoke radical re-evaluations of previously seemingly inviolable world views, people freak out. They resist. They come up with millions of reasons why the new approach is wrong, misguided, or downright crazy. If possible, they'll even try to burn you at the stake.

It's natural, of course. Having one's world view taken away from one is enormously disorienting. Dizzying. Downright scary, especially if your livelihood depends on it.

This is what is happening in mainstream media today. Yes, there are some people who get it and are moving boldly into the new (unknown and uncertain) digital future. But many are resisting. That's simply par for the course when a paradigm shift is taking place. The paradigm shift that says newspapers, in their current incarnations, may no longer be necessary. That the canon reporters followed for most of the last 100 years may no longer be the best rules to follow.

It's unfortunate, of course, that these changes can't happen gradually, that we can't slowly evolve from the old newspaper institution into fully developed new digital forms, so that traditional newsfolk can see that much of what they hold dear about journalism isn't going to disappear. But unfortunately, that's not how it works.

Science does not progress linearly, the late Berkeley professor Thomas Kuhn wrote in his seminal 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Rather, it progresses via "a
series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions"--paradigm shifts--in which "one conceptual world view is replaced by another." Kuhn was talking about science, but he could just as easily have been talking about technology. And in technology, he could have been talking about what we are witnessing in the world of media today.

A violent shift is taking place in the world of journalism today. Resistance, as I tell my never-left-mainstream-media friends, is futile. The best hope to make it through the revolution is dive in, try to understand it from within, and help influence the direction it takes.

Photo courtesy of apesara. Creative Commons license

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