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Published: November 30, 2006

 
 

Best Business Books: The Future

Just as Professor Benkler lays bare the structural changes that underlie online games, open source software, and Wikipedia, Professor Jenkins shows how today’s “mashups,” which combine and juxtapose samples from popular audiovisual works (so far, mostly illegally), have become an art form in their own right. The Web site HousingMaps.com, for example, combines real estate listings from Craigslist.com with Google Maps to create an incredibly useful locator for available housing.

Professor Benkler pieces together Wikipedia, the blogosphere, the Howard Dean presidential campaign, and the open source community to trace the transformation of the power to persuade, inform, educate, and sell. Professor Jenkins pieces together fan fiction, cross-media entertainment franchises, online games, and, yes, the blogosphere and the Dean campaign to reveal how the emerging “participatory culture” helps these public and private interests coevolve even as they conflict. “The power of the grassroots media is that it diversifies; the power of broadcast media is that it amplifies. That’s why we should be concerned with the flow between the two: expanding the potentials for participation represents the greatest opportunity for cultural diversity. Throw away the powers of broadcasting and one has only cultural fragmentation,” he writes. “The power of participation comes not from destroying commercial culture but from writing over it, modding [modifying] it, amending it, expanding it, adding greater diversity of perspective, and then recirculating it, feeding it back into the mainstream media.”

As Professor Benkler and Professor Jenkins make clear, changes under way today are transforming the entertainment industry, the nature of education, the economics of intellectual property, journalism, scientific research, and the way democracies function. But the matter of who owns, controls, and benefits from these transformations will be decided by who wins political conflicts over technological power. Together, Professor Benkler and Professor Jenkins paint a broad and detailed picture of this obscure but all-important power struggle.

Squatter Megacities and Regional Technopolises
The cyberworld may have grown in importance in recent years, but the world where our bodies live will always have first claim on our attention. Thus, every one of us should contemplate the fact that Homo sapiens will soon become, for the first time in its history, mostly an urban species. In Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, Robert Neuwirth examines the implications of that fact, along with the changes being wrought by the unbridled growth of squatter cities across the globe. At the same time, just as squatter cities are spreading everywhere, so are Silicon Valleys. Life in the middle of the 21st century is going to be heavily influenced by both phenomena. AnnaLee Saxenian, in The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy, looks at the increasing influence and interconnections of expanding techno-economic regions from Shenzhen to San Jose. These two global trends are already triggering massive changes at both the highest and lowest economic strata.

Mr. Neuwirth, a journalist, lived for months at a time in the vast, bustling, and surprisingly entrepreneurial squatter cities of Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, Istanbul, and Mumbai. The sheer scale and pace of the world Mr. Neuwirth describes are staggering: Every year, 70 million people leave their rural homes and migrate to cities. By 2030, there will likely be 2 billion squatters in the world. After reading Shadow Cities, you’ll think twice about ever again using the term slum — and you’ll definitely have a better idea of how the hundreds of millions of new city dwellers are coping with their poverty, and how their survival strategies will alter the world in the coming decades. (Also see “City Planet,” by Stewart Brand, s+b, Spring 2006.)

 
 
 
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