Should We Be Interested In 'Saving' Any Industry?

from the forward-or-backwards dept

We hear it all the time, whenever anyone talks about an industry being "destroyed" by new technologies: "how do we save x industry?" where "x" can stand for "recording" or "news" or "movies" or whatever. We saw it just recently when a professor wanted to "save" the newspaper industry by changing copyright law in ridiculous ways. It's also why we jokingly called our last event "Techdirt Saves* Journalism." The whole concept of "saving" an industry is so preposterous, which is why we wanted to mock it with the title of our event. I was reminded of this when reading this recap of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) event, where Dan Gillmor was quoted saying:
"I'm not even slightly interested in saving the industry."
And it got me thinking about understanding the mindset of "saving" an industry more deeply. The truth is, whenever anyone seriously (not mockingly) refers to "saving" an industry, invariably, they're really talking about saving a few legacy companies in that industry from whatever disruptive innovation is shaking things up. It's never actually about "saving an industry," because the "industry" almost never actually needs to be saved. The industry may be in the process of being changed (often radically), but that's not the same thing as needing saving.

What's telling is that, through all of this, you almost never hear start-ups talking about asking for help trying to "save the industry" that they're in. That's because they know "the industry" is just fine, and in all of the upheaval there's really tremendous opportunity. So, anytime anyone talks seriously about "saving" any particular industry, challenge them on what they really mean, and see if they're actually just talking about saving a few companies, rather than saving an actual "industry."

Filed Under: industry, progress, protectionism, saving


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2010 @ 7:21am

    Where is this ride going to end?

    I have blogged in the past about the incredible advances in disk storage as a function of price. In 200, you could get for $100 a hard drive that could hold about an hour of HD Video.

    Today, you can go out and buy for 100 dollars a hard drive that can hold 16 or so days of HD video.

    By 2020 that same $100 (not adjusted for inflation) you will be able to by a Hard Drive (or equivalent technology) that will hold 15 YEARS of HD video.

    Obviously, the same tech can hold far more music or literature since video is about the most storage consuming format we have for content (with the possible exception of some video games).

    The point is that one of the limitations of current tech that favors Content Providers is that we have never had the storage to keep all the content we have accessed in the past. Think Video recorders or DVRs. You have to flush these systems because the storage gets full.

    In the future, the storage isn't going to get full. One access, and you have no reason to flush it from the system. You want to watch it again, go ahead. No need to go back to the Content Providers. Want to take someone's complete library of past viewing? Bring it over! You will have space to hold it!

    But the content industries are not the only industries that are going to fall at the hands of technology.

    We will have automated vehicles. Cars, Buses, and Trucks will drive themselves, park themselves. Parking garages downtown? Forget it. Have your car drop you off, and go find someplace free to park. Who will really need a Taxi once your car can just drive home after dropping you off at the airport? Your car can go pick you up as well!

    The Trucking Industry will be radically restructured. The shipping industry might shift away from Fed-X and UPS in favor of crowd sourced shipping solutions unless they radically restructure themselves as well.

    Voice recognition is cutting into call centers, and it is only going to cut more. But Voice recognition is going to cut jobs out of retail as well. How many people do you need to take orders once computers can do that better?

    A vast number of industries and jobs exist simply because we cannot automate and distribute physical products and processes in the real world the way we can automate the distribution of information and processes in the virtual world. As technology advances, many, many industries are going to be "lost" or at least so radically restructured as to be unrecognizable today.

    What am I saying? The idea that we can "save" industries is one that needs to be rejected absolutely.

    At the same time, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that ANY Industry or ANY job is ultimately safe from the same relentless progression of technology.

    The next few decades are going to be an amazing ride.

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