Lanier takes note of a trend in popular music trends and is concerned.
Throughout the last century, each decade has been marked by some new approach to music. However, in the last decade, what new trends have come about in music? What about today’s music (in most examples) is distinctive from the music of 10-15 years ago?
Instead of doing something new and truly innovative, the last 10 years have been marked more by a retro feel to the music produced. While there is nothing wrong with the music produced in this time in and of itself, Lanier is concerned that this move is reflective to the larger culture and the shift toward polishing and refinement rather than creative innovation.
Lanier notes that the most significant contributions of the open-culture technological movement are found in Linux and Wikipedia. These are polished improvements on UNIX and encyclopedias. While both of these improvements are noteworthy and undoubtedly better than the originals, Lanier laments that the open-culture movement has yet to produce something innovative and creative. The dream was not that we would improve on what exists, but that the open-culture would produce new things. Instead, the new things produced in the last 25 years have been by individuals or closed corporations.
I can’t help but wonder if the reason for this stems from the fact that open-culture is that of large-scale collaboration. When you collaborate with a large group of people, the view of the majority tends to win. This approach is useful in many situations in life. However, when trying to come up with something new and innovative, it does not seem as successful. Something innovative is often against the popular trends, in part, because it is rejecting, to use Lanier’s language, “lock-ins” in order to make the process better. However, those lock-ins are what is known by the majority and they are often unwilling to abandon those for something new.
Let me be clear. I am not disparaging the open-culture movement. When looking to improve something already existing, having groups of people collaborating together can produce better results than an individual would be able to. However, to produce creative innovation, one often has to take risks, and with any risk, there is the possibility of failure. Groups do a good job of reducing the possibility of failure, but in the process, often reduce the possibility that something truly innovative may emerge.
Innovation requires risks. Whether that innovation is with regard to technology or music or literature or anything, when you try something truly new, there is a chance that it could fall flat on its face. In fact, I’d venture that more often than not, the new things often fail. An individual, or a small group fully committed to an idea, can make those risks and are more willing to take risks. A group without that high level of commitment is less likely to be willing to take that risk, which is understandable, but is able to improve on the status quo.
If want to change the status quo, we have to be willing to take risks. We have to be willing to go against the lock-ins of society. We have to try new things. As individuals committed to those risks, we can band together. However, it doesn’t seem like a group is, or even should be expected to be willing to leave the status quo.
As is the norm in these posts, this fact is one reason I appreciate the work being done with NoiseTrade. (I promise you that I am not on their payroll, nor do I have any kind of personal stake in the site.) They give artists avenues to put their new stuff out there for an audience that they would not have otherwise. They do it at no financial cost to the artist or the audience. Instead, they allow artists to put their music out there for free, risking that there will be fans out there who will download it and find it enjoyable enough to come to concerts. Fans take the risk of their time to download the artist’s work. These may seem like small risks, but those risks allow the possibility of something new emerging from their work. The masses may not embrace a new and innovative artist, but they may find a fan base to encourage them to keep doing new music, pushing the envelope and eventually leading to another shift in music.
I think the innovative thinkers in teaching are also working by themselves or in small groups of people, and are often fighting against the larger trends in their profession. However, places like the ATL at Baylor (as a matter of full disclosure, I am on their payroll) give these individuals a safe place to explore those ideas and encouragement to improve those thoughts and to continue persevering. It also presents opportunities to introduce these new ideas to an audience larger than any of those individuals would be able to have by themselves.
I have no idea how this model would be helpful in other areas and with other products, but please throw out any ideas that you have to help give these opportunities to innovative thinkers!