Home Articles Brace yourself for the Digital Revolution. It’s only just begun.

Brace yourself for the Digital Revolution. It’s only just begun.


If you’ve grown wary of all the New Media hype, put your scepticism on hold. Far from petering out, argues Paul G. Roberts, digital technology’s effect on information and communication, in all of our interconnected lives, is guaranteed to keep accelerating.

In this first of two parts, Roberts traces the origins of information sharing from prehistoric times to the present day. We have come a long way — and even with media communications more democratic than ever, there’s still plenty of room to grow.

A brief history of Content

The cave paintings of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc are found in the Ardeche region of southern France. They date back to 30,000 BC. Those paintings were Content that humans produced to connect and communicate with other people — the earliest evidence of “social media.”

Many thousands of years later, in 1439, a German goldsmith called Johannes Gutenberg invented the first mechanical printing press via moveable type. It played a key role in the spreading of information to the masses and was widely credited as having played a key part in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution.

Five hundred years after that — January 13, 1910 — an Italian opera was first broadcast over radio waves from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. And by the 1930s, radio waves had broadened their spectrum so as to carry moving pictures as well as sound.

In many countries, television pretty much assured a handful of omnipotent network barons near-total control of mass culture. And the accompanying television advertising was able to build the world’s first truly global brands, cementing names like Coca-Cola and Marlboro cigarettes forever in our pop cultural psyche.

The online rise, boom, and fall

Then came the Internet, which actually began its nascent rise in the 1950s and 1960s with the development of computers. A thing called the ARPANET led to the development of protocols for internetworking, where multiple separate networks could be joined together into a network of networks. In 1982, the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardised, and the concept of a worldwide network of fully interconnected networks called the Internet was introduced.

These ubiquitous linked devices also gave possibilities for a new C word: Comment. Content creation and its broadcasting were now anyone’s game and no longer the privilege of news editors and television network barons.

At first, Internet applications boomed. The Mosaic web browser, created in 1993, would fail but later evolve into the genre known as Search. This crash was part of a speculative bubble covering roughly 1995–2000; it was a kind of a premature ejaculation, with much of the associated embarrassing mess.

From the ruins of the 1990s bust came the many new substantial Web entities, and with more of the public now digitally enabled and online, they liked this new hands-on connectivity, and it evolved to create a whole new freedom of speech.

The new Web

It was only a short matter of time before the idea of Internet Search refined itself and became a big success. With so much Content available, Search gave us a means of finding anything worth discovering easily, freely, and fast.

The rulers of Search (i.e. Google) found a way to reinvent untargeted paid advertising with targeted advertising. Many estimate that they took as many as a third of all media advertising dollars from the established ad media industries.

Then came the vast expansion of new Web applications and the growth of what I call the Four Elephants: Apple representing devices, Amazon representing online selling, Facebook representing Social, and Google representing Search. At the same time, many new online entities big and small started changing the digital landscape — including WordPress, YouTube, Twitter, eBay and LinkedIn.

Empowered and opinionated, the people of the Web gave rise to their manifesto of “The 5 Eyes” — I won’t wait, I won’t watch, I won’t pay, I want to be heard, and I want to create. Civilisation had a fully formed new revolution.

Challenging the establishment

In 2008 Apple made yet another game-changing breakthrough — the creation of the App Store. This was a user-generated Content turbocharger, enabling the smartest digital minds on the planet to tap into Apple’s created digital ecosystem. To say it was a success is akin to saying the universe is quite large. Fifteen billion App downloads in just over three years and climbing. Nine billion in the last 12 months alone.

With this, Content began being aggregated and passed back to the consumers by the aggregators rather than by the Content creators, publishers, and broadcasters. Hence, a new C-word was born; this word was Curation.

Before they knew it, the media brand owners saw their power, their influence, and their revenue strangleholds in jeopardy. They railed and took up arms, citing copyright, IP, and anything they could shout as to claim “no fair.” But as much as they wanted to wind back the clock and erect pay walls on their Content, they knew their exclusive influence and revenue was slipping through their fingers.

The rise of real-time information creation and broadcasting sources has recently been seen challenging totalitarian regimes around the world, as well as changing the global landscape of the giant communications and advertising industries. This unstoppable oncoming wave of fresh Content makes the concept of Curation and filtering almost essential. And whilst that used to be the exclusive preserve of tradition media sources, now it’s something anyone can do, regardless of whether they work at the New York Times or went to journalism school.

This is the reason why so many powerful publishers have reacted so strongly to what the Huffington Post, Zite, Pulse, Storify, Flipboard, Instapaper, and other digital media outlets are doing: because they represent a real challenge to their title of the exclusive gatekeepers of information and the trusted oracles of what is true and what is important. And that poses a great threat to not just their rank in the media ecosystem — but also their means to earn sales and advertising dollars.

Paul G. Roberts is CEO of Fashion Industry Broadcast, a leading publisher of lifestyle titles, made and distributed globally as books, e-books and apps. Visit www.fashionindustrybroadcast.com or search ‘Fashion Industry Broadcast’ on iTunes.