Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Post-Location

Clearly one of the themes of the 21st century is the changing meaning of location. Whether you call it the flattening of the globe or something else, the point that we’re living in a more global society than ever before can’t really be ignored. As someone who makes stuff on the internet this comes up quite often. Since launching brand tags, for instance, almost exactly half my traffic has come from the US and the other half has come from everywhere else, despite the site is clearly for a US audience (the brands are mostly US-centric). And I’m not alone on this one, according to this iMedia article:

Research from comScore indicates that 63 percent of the visitors to Ticketmaster come from outside of the United States, as do 64 percent of the visitors to New York Times Digital, 68 percent of the visitors to Disney Online and Expedia. More than 80 percent of the visitors to CNET Networks and Apple Computer, Inc. come from outside of the United States as well.

But it’s not actually marketing I’m interested in talking about at the moment (imagine that!). Rather, I want to talk about a few interesting quotes I’ve run across recently that I think fit together.

First off, it’s the one that inspired this entry. It comes from a 2005 Rolling Stone article about the Rendon Group titled “The Man Who Sold the War” (thanks for the tip Colin). The article is amazing, and I seriously suggest reading it. It’s all about how propaganda shapes thinking and world events (specifically the war in Iraq). But it’s this quote that really jumped out at me:

By law, the Bush administration is expressly prohibited from disseminating government propaganda at home. But in an age of global communications, there is nothing to stop it from planting a phony pro-war story overseas — knowing with certainty that it will reach American citizens almost instantly.

“An age of global communications” is a nice way to think about it. There’s no delay in information anymore. Yesterday I was talking to a colleague about the idea of asymmetrical information (the economic idea that markets behave inefficiently when one side has different information than another) and the fact that it’s coming closer to being extinct. The car industry is a great place to look at this: Who walks into a showroom anymore without complete knowledge of the pricing of the car and its components (well, probably lots of people, but still). Seriously, though, this is a big deal and a big change, when everyone knows the same stuff all of a sudden markets start behaving in new ways (or actually, they start behaving in “normal” ways which just so happen to be new to us). When you play this out on a global stage what you get is a world where information is digested almost instantly no matter where it occurs. Which, of course, leads us to situations like the one the Olympics and NBC are facing right now.

By choosing to delay the opening ceremonies, NBC set itself up for a fight against technology and communication. As the New York Times article explains, “NBC’s decision to delay broadcasting the opening ceremonies by 12 hours sent people across the country to their computers to poke holes in NBC’s technological wall — by finding newsfeeds on foreign broadcasters’ Web sites and by watching clips of the ceremonies on YouTube and other sites.” Global communications doesn’t do delays, it just doesn’t make any sense. Which leaves a company like NBC trying to hold onto a relic: The control of a once-local communications medium.

But again, nothing I’ve said is particularly new. These are all things that have been bubbling for up for at least the last five years and probably even longer. What I think is interesting is where it all goes. A few months ago Shelly Palmer wrote a really interesting article about Antigua’s copyright threat to the US (in short Antigua threatened and actually distributed copyrighted US materials in retaliation to the US shutting down offshore internet betting). In the article Palmer quotes Phillip Rosedale, CEO of Second Life, saying, “in a few years telling someone you’re from China will have about as much meaning as telling them your astrological sign.” Palmer goes on to explain that “While even Philip agreed that that might be hyperbole, he was pretty sure that where you live in the physical world is starting to have less meaning with respect to your ability to function online.”

So what does a post-nationality world look like? Not surprisingly I don’t really have any idea. I mean, I think we’re seeing lots of paralells in other parts of life that point in the same direction. The move from demographics to psychographics as a way to define groups seems to be a nice analog for the situation. Simply put, we are moving to a time where we need different criteria to define our universe. Play that out further and you get questions like: What happens when they find a way to help people live forever? (Or until they get bored of it at least.)

Essentially I think much of it boils down to something Faris wrote about the other day: Post-scarcity economics. Much of this discussion revolves around abundant availability (in this case specifically around content and communication) and more specifically, around the business world trying to find some semblance of balance as the ground shifts beneath them.

Pause.

Basically I don’t know where else to go with this. So I’m stopping. Going to keep reading and see what I come up with, but figured I’d leave it open to everyone else as well. In my search for a conclusion I landed on the Wikipedia page for “post scarcity”, which led me searching for a guy named Anthony Giddens and eventually to an excellent lecture he gave on globalization which included this:

Instantaneous electronic communication isn’t just a way in which news or information is conveyed more quickly. Its existence alters the very texture of our lives, rich and poor alike. When the image of Nelson Mandela maybe is more familiar to us than the face of our next door neighbour, something has changed in the nature of our everyday experience.

So I’ll leave you all with that. Thoughts, as always, are greatly appreciated. Maybe someone else can tell me what I’m talking about at this point, since I seem to have forgotten. Good night.

August 10, 2008