Rotten floors and shattering platforms

August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Do you remember the time when plastic and other synthetic materials were expected to replace wood and other traditional materials? Or when a similar trend was seen for wool, silk, tapestry, leather, house roofs, and oil paints to list a few sad lessons? It was a struggle for ‘platforms’ although it was not called by that name then. If you are a child of the digital and mobile scene you probably don’t remember that strange period, but now you can take your turn and follow a similar process happening in the media and communication world.

The renaissance of classical materials is taking place in wood building, clothing, retro, furniture, radios, and old records, to name a few examples. This has not happened because it is fashionable, but because it has been wise, sustainable, and people have been attracted to the classical objects and forms.  The capital value of the material renaissance increases fast and the same can happen in media and communication industry. The reason is simple: people don’t care a bit about platforms and operating systems. They just want to lead a good life as they see it, with media that is now an unavoidable companion of any lifestyle and in the long run, people don’t want to be hostages of any monolithic platform.

In my hometown Helsinki, a great number of beautiful wooden houses were torn down in 1950’s and 60’s and replaced by modern buildings made of ‘new’ materials. So important were these innovations that the architects and constructors did not care how the houses looked like, they just had to be ‘modern’. Looking at them now is painful: they are terribly ugly, they spoil the atmosphere of their environment, and they have no future value. But it was easy to sell them as the representatives of ‘modern lifestyle’.

In some cases modern and classical technologies were mixed. For example, old wooden floors were covered by colourful, plastic carpets glued on place. This prevented the natural breathing of the houses and made the 100 years old wooden floors rot in a year. Then, because the plastic materials did not breath, artificial ventilation systems were installed, which introduced humidity, mold, which made hundreds of families sick at their homes. This is still taking place.

The reasons for these disasters were not the materials as such – or the ‘platforms’ if we prefer the present terminology – but a lack of understanding of how the classical buildings functioned, how they lived their lives, and what were the ecosystems they formed together with their inhabitants. Mixing of old and modern is far from a simple exercise. Now we know their value in terms of aesthetics, style, history, culture, and function. In 1960’s and even 70’s these aspects had practically no capital value in many European cities.  But for people, a box is not a home and a communication platform is not a media.

Platforms as concentration camps of communication

The ongoing struggle between media platforms is a reflection of beliefs in material over meaning and content. Platform and business ecosystem dominance and strategic alliances – forgetting the human ecosystems – are expected to guarantee significant wins while at the same time there is an increasing risk to underestimate consumer habits and contexts. The term ‘ecosystem’ when we hear it from a businessperson actually means ‘a concentration camp of communication’, a place where “Communication makes you free” as long as you keep on paying and staying there. Media masters have no genuine interest in the human ecosystems, they want to dominate the economics and logistics: to command their own communication camps.

But people will get tired, perhaps even digitally sick, in an unknown, but modern way, because they do not know what an operation system or a platform actually is and what it does to them.  They really should not care. It’s like with the plastic carpets, the question of “What is that platform?” does not provide the answer to the more relevant question “What are its consequences to me, my life, and my family?” The latter question is not asked in the media and communication business world of today.

Own the concepts and you own the minds

We will soon see a struggle for who will own the next dominant public debate concept that replaces the operating system (OS) talk. The competition is really not too ambitious, because almost anything that respects human styles and preferences can be better than the present OS mantra. One can only hope that it helps consumers to think about their lives. At present, many kinds of beliefs can be fed to the ignorant audience who are under continuous pressure to be experts on new and future technologies. But they really have no chance, and actually they should not even trouble their minds with this futile exercise at all, they should be offered the chance to be the experts of their own life contexts.

Consumers are kept awake by the up and down behavior of the stock market as if it would have any real long-term significance for them. We saw from Nokia, how the invitation of their CEO or his advisors, to publicly talk about operation system features became a most effective way to loose ground on future markets and to give an extra boost to the downturn of Nokia. It was easy to convince the consumers to believe that it is the OS of Nokia that is suspicious. Others had already made their winning definition of the ‘winning operation systems’ in the public debate. I believe that 90% of consumers cannot even define an OS. We will see an intensifying fight for the ownership of dominant concepts and their place in public discussions. With concept ownership the operators own the minds of their customers who cannot think otherwise.

Platforms and rotting wooden floors

The best-known example of a platform struggle concerns print media. Gloomy destiny of paper media has become a truism in the strategy discourses of modern and future media. Even a thought that paper media could have a new and better future ahead is a real brain-killer today and it hints to a poor mind, off-the-rocker thinking and surely is an invitation to serious yawns from the digital natives.

The question remains what happens to the cultural role and position of printed objects in the media lives of people. As an educational example we can admire the infinite future of oil paintings that have not been replaced by the electronic displays with immense color reproduction properties and even 3D. The secret behind the persistence of oil paintings is in their special quality that their material and the touch of an artist can offer and the attractive visual characteristics of oil paints and the canvas as a medium. Of course we could combine oil paintings with any imaginable kind of displays, which might even be seen as avant-garde, fusion art, but it cannot replace oil painting culture.

The importance of a media renaissance is associated with the increasing power of open media cultures. Newspapers have missed their renaissance, and what happened to them reminds of the destiny of the wooden houses where modern materials and systems were artificially mixed and installed. To take the analogy a bit further, newspapers covered their journalistic essence with digital carpets that suffocated them. We know why the wooden floors rotted but there is much to learn what made this happen in newspapers. The explanation is not in the material.

Paradoxically, the introduction of iPhone, iPad, other tablets, 3D, large and multiple display systems are creating a new and rich multimedia life, and they give a new boost of life to books, magazines and comics. It is not a zero-sum game. The more you read the more you read. Simply the variety of future media will ruin any monolithic empires. But the products and their publishers must change and learn to live and to breath in these new multimedia realities.

Media renaissance fosters the acceptance and cultivation of multiple media in a way that is good for people and communities. I don’t know exactly what it will be like, and there really is no clue where are the real winners on these future renaissance media markets. But there are signs of a new, although slow development. It is not seen in the market data, in the competition between content providers or in the success of innovative media sites and channels. It is happening in people’s habits and personal styles. People are actively reorganizing and tuning their lives with multimedia, many are trying to build a new and healthy media life. We have studied some aspects of this in RAMI (Rapid market innovations) project and will continue.

Media maturation

The major source for the renaissance is the media maturation that we now face on many areas. Mobile devices and systems have become generally available, internet services are now standard tools and commodities, digital radio has found its lifeline, home theatres have a sufficiently high quality for the average size of family homes, high-quality digital printing offers new flexibility for content providers, internet and mobile cross cultural boundaries, and book sales have gone to the net. Media renaissance will reward people who want to be relieved from the ecosystem emperors and they are fast learning to avoid becoming the hostages of the media monarchs.

The term ‘renaissance’ may evoke conflicting arguments from historians, but it can be defined as a historical period of a cultural movement that favours arts, sciences, religion, politics, and education in all their dimensionalities. It amends its power from classical sources and in essence, it accepts and even assumes different perspectives to human life and to the conceptions of the world as we see it. The global pressure for this opening of the minds is stronger than ever and the North African episodes are but a weak symptom of it. Similar pressures originate from the rest of Africa, China, and even at the borderlines of Europe and its capitols. ‘Renaissance of media culture’ means life with media that accept different habits, worldviews and cultures, both in content and form. Fahrenheit 451, the movie by Francois Truffaut is astonishingly relevant today. Without the acceptance of multiple perspectives to life, we are lost on our platforms.

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