It's not as though the world was clamoring for Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press in 1440. After all, a contingent of monks were dutifully employed inking delicately hand-wrought books. But the revolutionary technology arrived nonetheless, upending the Middle Ages and rocking both church and state with its unprecedented flow of knowledge.
The cultural and economic upheaval the world is now experiencing signals another such Gutenberg moment, two brilliant new books argue. The catalyst is, of course, the Internet, whose dramatic impact on the business world is expertly analyzed and chronicled by the futurist authors. Their real message, though, is that the online universe is too important to cede to geeks and early adopters.
Don Tapscott, a prolific digital guru whose 2007 best seller Wikinomics advised businesses to embrace openness and sharing, is back with co-author Anthony D. Williams to report that the collaborative approach they champion is taking hold. They cite as Exhibit A organizations like upstart Local Motors, the polar opposite of GM and Chrysler; the automaker is an online community of almost 5,000 designers from 121 countries. "For the first time in history," Macrowikinomics proclaims, "individuals and small businesses can harness world-class capabilities, access markets and serve customers in ways that only large corporations could in the past."
Nick Bilton, the lead technology writer for the New York Times's Bits blog, has identified from his techno-perch a new kind of consumer, the "consumnivore," who hunts, consumes, distributes and regurgitates digital content. Bilton is well aware that the news of an expanding Internet presence will not sit well with those who still haven't mastered their BlackBerrys, but he says, in essence, Tough. "Traditional consumers aren't coming back," trumpets Bilton. "Print advertising isn't coming back. Media, brands and the established narratives are not coming back." Is that a touch of glee we detect?