In response to Maxine's request for my review of An Army of Davids, here it is (if I do say so myself, it holds up, especially the last paragraph):
An Army of Davids
How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government and Other Goliaths
Nelson Current. 289 pp. $24.99
Like the baby boomers who still account for much of its staff, Big Media is perpetually nostalgic. It yearns to revisit the glory days of its opposition to the Vietnam War and, of course, Watergate. So it often portrays the war in Iraq as another Vietnam. But the analogy is facile - as Mark Twain is said to have observed, "History does not repeat itself; it rhymes. "
In the meantime, something very similar to what happened in Vietnam is happening - to Big Media. As Glenn Reynolds puts it in An Army of Davids: "Where before journalists and pundits could bloviate at leisure, offering illogical analysis or citing 'facts' that were in fact false, now the Sunday morning op-eds have already been dissected on a Saturday night, within hours of their appearing on newspapers' websites. "
Dissected by whom? By bloggers. Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, knows as much about blogging as anyone: He's the man behind InstaPundit.com, which on some days racks up as many as a half-million page loads.
Reynolds' highly informative book - a must-read if you want to have some idea of the direction things are taking - is about a lot more than the effect of blogging on Big Media. Its theme is "the triumph of personal technology over mass technology," which is a trend Reynolds believes is only "going to strengthen over the coming decades. "
Recalling that John Kenneth Galbraith's 1966 book The New Industrial State argued that the very size of big corporations protected them from both failure and competition, Reynolds points out that now, a mere 40 years later, "a laptop, a cheap video camera, and the free iMovie or Windows Movie Maker software (plus an Internet connection) will let one person do things that the Big Three television networks could only dream of in Galbraith's day, and at a fraction of the cost. "
That and other changes have come about with remarkable rapidity. Reynolds, sitting with a laptop in "a pizza place with 27 kinds of beer on tap, a nice patio and . . . a free wireless Internet hookup," is able "in less time than it takes the barmaid to draw me a beer" to look up the Hephthalite Huns, Tsiolkovsky's rocket equation, and "how much money Joe Biden has gotten from the entertainment industry. "
As recently as 1993, he wouldn't have been able to, because the Web was just getting started, Wi-Fi was only a couple of years old, and Google didn't exist. Most remarkable, Reynolds says, is that "the Web, Wi-Fi and Google didn't develop and spread because somebody at the Bureau of Central Knowledge Planning planned them. They developed . . . from the uncoordinated activities of individuals. "
Reynolds covers a lot of territory in this little book, from being able to have a state-of-the-art recording studio in your home for about $1,000 to "electronic privateering" in the war on terror, to video games' potential as teaching devices (likely to discombobulate teachers the way blogs have journalists). Reynolds knows how to pack a lot of information into a relatively small space and provides clear and concise explanations of such things as "horizontal knowledge" - "communication among individuals who may not know each other, but who are loosely coordinated by their involvement in something, or someone, of mutual interest. "
As a professed "transhumanist," Reynolds waxes enthusiastic on nanotechnology, planetary colonization, and "Scientifically Engineered Negligible Senescence. " But, like Ray Kurzweil - author of The Singularity Is Near, last year's big futurist book - Reynolds is well aware of the dangers that technological change can pose and favors taking reasonable steps to prevent such things as a terrorist-generated plague from happening.
The changes Reynolds chronicles have proved unsettling to a number of settled institutions, including government, corporations and the media. Reynolds, who knows his away around the First Amendment, thinks that "the press establishment's general lack of enthusiasm for free speech for others (as evidenced by its support for campaign finance 'reform') suggests that it'll be happy to see alternative media muzzled. "
"You want to keep this media revolution going?" he asks. "Be ready to fight for it. "
I think it will prove to be not much of a contest. As Reynolds knows, "open communication, quick thinking, decentralization, and broad dispersal of skills - along with a sense of individual responsibility - have an enormous structural advantage. " If Big Media could figure out how to partner with alternative media - putting together, as Reynolds suggests, "a network of freelance journalists" or "knit[ting] together a network of bloggers" - the outcome would be good for all concerned.
But that's not going to happen as long as corporate journalism continues to insist on ever more bureaucratic protocols, on making articles conform to some goofy packaging concept, and on a top-to-bottom command structure. It's as though a World War II army were marching through a jungle infested by guerrillas. Just like in Vietnam.