Media Perspective: Is your business world natural or just a 'blip of blubber'?

There was a big pile of eminently quotable Brian Eno thoughts in The Observer a couple of weeks back.

My favourite was this linkage of the record industry and whale blubber: "I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn't last, and now it's running out. I don't particularly care that it is and like the way things are going.

"The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you'd be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry, mate - history's moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it."

That, as you can imagine, was blogosphere crack and whipped round the music and media prognosticators at high speed.

The most interesting comment was at a blog called Snarkmarket which advanc-ed this idea as a lovely example of "de-naturalisation", meaning taking something that seems natural and inevitable, just the way things are, and pointing out that it's none of these things - that, actually, the circumstances we're taking for granted, assuming they're the natural order, are a freakish accident of circumstance and there's no particular reason they should continue into the future.

That seems like a useful skill these days: being able to separate what's actually natural from what just seems so. Clay Shirky has similarly pointed out how odd, when you stop to think about it, the relationship between newspapers and advertisers is. Somehow we've ended up with all sorts of huge commercial entities with no interest in reporting at all (retailers, car companies, banks) subsidising journalism deemed to be hugely in the public interest (overseas coverage, investigative reporting etc).

We know why - it's an accident of history and a convergence of audiences and attention - but, still, when you look at it now, it doesn't seem like a natural connection.

Of course, it's possible to overdo this idea - almost nothing seems natural when you look at it long enough. Trees, for example, are an insane idea when you think about them hard enough.

But it might be a useful exercise every now and then to consider how much of your business world is truly a natural part of a commercial or social ecosystem and how much is just a little blip of blubber.


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