“Opening with sinking spirits
Text-books whose right answers loom
Like jet ‘planes so far above them,
Waiting for the sonic boom
Of comprehension …”
I used to love teaching this poem with Year 8 students. Bruce Dawe captures so beautifully the essence of an Australian school at the start of a new year. The words that have always stuck with me are, “the sonic boom of comprehension”. I know so well the feeling that comes when something finally clicks and you feel like a light has switched on within you.
When I began to understand the communicative potential of the Internet around four years ago, I had one of those sonic boom of comprehension moments. I knew my life was forever changed, but I also knew that this represented more than just a shift in the way I thought and responded. It represented a huge societal shift, a change in the way everything would work. I knew I had to get involved and develop an understanding of these shifts. I thought at the time that I was late to the party; it seemed there were so many already with an invitation and their party clothes on. I realise now I wasn’t lagging too far behind at a party that is still inviting guests along.
I’m getting a little worried right now about the guests who haven’t yet shown up. There are plenty of them out there. People who don’t quite fathom how the Internet is changing so much of what we do and how we conduct every part of our lives. Evidence of this seems to be mounting on a daily basis, but I’m not sure people are making the connections.
In Australia, we’ve recently seen the demise of Borders and Angus and Robertson Bookstores. While people seem to genuinely mourn their passing, it seems the growth of online booksellers like the Book Depository are hitting booksellers hard. We’ve even had Senator Nick Sherry, our federal Small Business Minister weigh into the discussion with this comment that has inflamed bricks and mortar booksellers,
”I think in five years, other than a few specialist booksellers in capital cities we will not see a bookstore; they will cease to exist,”
It seems to me that Booksellers, like Libraries, are experiencing what the music industry has had to contend with for quite a few years now. The model is changing, and we need to morph to fit the new, because an inflexible die cast approach just isn’t going to cut it in a world that does things differently now.
But it’s not just Bookstores that are feeling the pinch. We are seeing change feed to other industries too. Retail outlets like clothing stores and small goods suppliers are seeing consumers move to online shopping where the middleman disappears and direct buying means cheaper prices. My father in law recounted a story to me recently where he said a shoe store had resorted to charging customers when they asked to try on shoes, because they were sick and tired of being the ‘try before you buy from an online source’ store. I don’t know if this story holds true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does.
What truly worries me is this. What happens when the take up for online shopping really starts to take hold here in Australia? I saw statistics recently that said Australia has not yet hit anywhere near the stride countries like the USA have when it comes to adoption of online shopping. What impact will this have on our retail industries and the job market these industries support? It worries me that our desire to get product at the cheapest possible price may ignore the fact that this places the livelihood of people in peril. I know this goes hand in hand with change, and new businesses will arise as a result of the shifts taking place, but I’m not entirely confident what will emerge will meet our employment needs.
Whatever the outcome, there is little doubt there is a need to understand the rise of participatory culture and the way it will change the industrial age business model still operating for many out there. Once again, the need for understanding does not just exist within the business community. Our education system needs an understanding too if we are to prepare our students well.
A good place to start to understand what business is thinking is Slideshare. I’ve taken to viewing the home page on a regular basis and looking at the top presentations of the day. You can learn an awful lot from what people are posting. One such presentation caught my eye just the other day. Take a look at ‘Invasion of the Participatory Culture‘, and see if you take something from it.