The Internet has changed a lot of things including the face of Corporate America. But can it save the wobbly tower of capitalism from collapsing in on itself?
The free market. It gave us Oreos. And fracking. It gave us stacked mega-corporations. And according to Klint Finley of TechCrunch, thanks to our inter-connectivity, it’s dissolving those mega-corporations too, so it seems.
What we have now, through the worldwide web, notes author and marketing expert Seth Godin in his book “We Are All Weird”, is the end of mass. “[I]t will fail; it must. The tide has turned, and mass as the engine of our culture is gone forever.” Granted, standing inside a Walmart soda aisle may have you thinking a bit differently, but Godin says that the way of the modern world is now, “more information, more choice, more freedom, and more interaction.” This benefits us certainly as individuals. Just Google anything, really (I randomly typed “ketchup cupcakes“, which I now regret). We can find each other now, we can weird out together. And so can companies. They kind of have to.
“Corporations are arguably more powerful today than ever before. But the economy isn’t dominated by a handful of megalithic conglomerates. It consists of hundreds or thousands of smaller, more specialized firms,” writes Finley. The future is dominated by “a new power structure: the mega network.” These companies are being linked by software technology, and directed by it, too, says Finley, ” The software network is diversifying and growing into the networked equivalent of a mega-conglomerate.”
And while these “mega-network” entities put a lot of the emphasis on “mega,” Godin says that approach won’t really last. “The thing that made us rich was our ability to process in mass, produce in mass, ship in mass, and market in mass.” But the wealth is fueling a movement “that undermines the foundation that earned us the wealth,” he writes. “We need a mass audience” for it all to continue, but the next breakthroughs aren’t going to be about fueling the mass, he says. “The demand for normal…is now ironically and inevitably clashing with the trend toward weird.”
And you can call that the beginning of the end of mass, or as Finley notes, the die-off of the conglomerates. Through networks, driven by the dotcoms, which are fueled by “the weird,” we’re expanding on our downsizing. Growing our small. Normalizing niches in ways that provide more chances to the little start-up with the support of massive networks. Make money, grow a business, but with the help of virtual corporations, “temporary alliances of businesses pursuing common goals. In other words, networks,” writes Finley. “Maybe this won’t last. Maybe Google, which is becoming pretty diverse itself, will become the dystopian mega-corporation the cyberpunks feared. But for now it seems that the mega-network is here to stay.”
But if the network can challenge out the heavy history of our Corporate America, is it bad to be mega?
Can the networks prevent another Enron? Can they reform Wall Street? Can they keep new flavors of diabetes and obesity causing soft drinks off the shelves? Probably not. But it seems they can help to broaden our options. Or as Godin puts it, keep things weird. “The biggest cultural shift that the Internet has amplified is the ability to make an impact on your own culture,” he writes. “New culture is created on top of the old one, and then another layer of culture goes on top of that.” Which is how networks work. Layers upon shifting layers. But unlike corporate conglomerates, networks don’t have to be endless unstable pillars built up to the sky. They can be closed loops—concentric circles that contain energy and resources—that maintain their wholeness infinitely, instead of eventually toppling over.
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