I was captivated as a child by the idea that the planet is an entirely closed system. I hadn’t yet encountered the brilliant James Lovelock or his elegant, totally sensible Gaia theory, but could see that something very clever was going on. If literally nothing escaped our atmosphere – ever – then water, for example, was a finite, measurable resource. Whether it flowed through our rivers and oceans, was suspended up in the clouds or within the huge variety of organic lifeforms, the actual amount of water was absolutely fixed. No more could be made. None could ever be lost.
So it was a simple leap to the next question. What happens when the population doubles, then triples? What will we all be drinking?? (Answers please, as soon as possible…)
I’ve often thought of words, or the larger media ecosystem, in exactly the same way.
You can’t read two books at the same time, nor can you write one thing while reading another. It follows that as the population grows, the amount text that is generated grows as well. Our ability to read also increases, at a closely matched rate. In other words, if all of us spend our available time writing blogs, none of them would actually be read by anyone. (And is that such a bad thing…? Only joking…)
I cling to this model as a sure guide, in the hope it sheds some light on the ebb and flow of markets and audiences in our media arena, such as newspaper readerships, television viewers, paperback sales, etc, etc.
Now clearly the Explosion That Is Digital has changed the dials somewhat. Not only is it easier and quicker to produce words, but accessing them or filling them is getting much easier too. Along the way the occasional geek makes a few billion by providing a useful tool, such as an index, but I’m sure that essentially the same laws are at work.
So my question is this. Assume that the combined global readership is capped ( say 6 billion humans x 2 hours per day) by the simple, unavoidable requirements and routines of work, sleep, leisure, literacy levels, etc. Assume that it is physically impossible to increase this volume. So it follows that there is a maximum amount of text that can be consumed. You’ll glean that at the moment I suspect we are in a period of grotesque over-supply.
When this happens, demand will dictate and inform our choices and habits. In other words, if we have to rationalise our reading, we will tend to favour the better quality, more satisfying content. It also tends to be true (though not always, I agree ) that this premium content is produced by organisations or individuals who are well-resourced, skilled, and responsive to our needs. To win our minds, and keep our interest, they have to produce content that is relevant, timely, compelling and engaging.
So like Gaia, the media landscape is self-regulating. We just have to ride out this period of turbulence – driven by the techies after all, not the content producers – and wait for it to settle down into a new, yet familiar pattern.
Or is it more complex than that ? And if so, why….?