Shifting Horizons Series — Part 2
The financial crisis of 2008 delivered a crushing blow, upending institutions and livelihoods. Its aftershocks reverberated through the media landscape, hastening the decline of print and propelling the pivot to digital. With stalwarts scrambling to adapt, space opened up for new players and platforms.
Mobile-First and Social Media’s Rise
The mobile revolution ushered in by the iPhone soon gave way to an era dominated by apps and social media. According to Flurry, a mobile analytics startup, by 2012, consumers were spending an average of 127 minutes per day in mobile apps, representing a 35 percent increase from the previous year. This usage surpassed time spent browsing on the desktop web, which slightly declined over the same period.
The shift towards mobile apps highlighted their growing importance in people’s daily lives. With nearly double the time spent in apps compared to the web, mobile apps had become a significant part of the digital experience. Flurry’s CEO, Simon Khalaf, predicted that apps would continue challenging broadcast television as the dominant media consumption channel.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat captured eyeballs and attention, providing novel ways for people to connect and consume content. Ad dollars chased eyeballs, rapidly migrating to social platforms’ news feeds and stories. Publishers developed social strategies and pivoted to snackable content optimized for the format.
Democratization Through Creators
The rise of social media opened the floodgates for individual creators to build audiences and monetize content. YouTube fostered a new breed of influencer that brands eagerly sponsored, while Instagram and TikTok empowered generations of creators.
Patreon, Substack and other platforms allowed creators to build direct relationships with fans. Newsletters, podcasts and personalized content surged in popularity, enabling niche voices to flourish. Barriers to entry fell away as technology democratized content creation.
Mainstream media struggled to retain its gatekeeper status as individuals carved out profitable creative careers. The balance of power shifted towards independent creators who built authentic connections with their communities.
The Proliferation of Misinformation
The rise of the creator economy and democratization of content has also enabled the spread of misinformation. With social media allowing anyone to publish content, false or misleading narratives have proliferated online.
According to experts, human tendencies toward tribalism, confirmation bias, and cognitive ease have contributed to people embracing misinformation. Our brains are not wired to contend with the pace of technological change, which amplifies these flawed instincts.
The declining trust in traditional gatekeepers such as the mainstream media has also fueled misinformation. Citizens increasingly tune out journalists and editors, instead seeking perspectives that align with their views or provoke emotional reactions.
Outrage-fueled partisan media outlets and conspiracy theorists weave misleading narratives that go viral online. Though fact-checking initiatives exist, bogus stories often spread farther and faster than the truth. Some experts argue this indicates inherent limits to conquering misinformation with technology alone.
Others believe solutions will emerge, whether through media literacy initiatives, social platforms reforms, or as-yet-undiscovered technologies. But for now, the quest for power and profit continues degrading online information environments. Until reforms materialize, the erosion of a shared factual basis threatens civil discourse and democratic institutions.
The rise of AI generation tools like ChatGPT provokes new questions. If advanced AI can produce falsehoods indistinguishable from truth, how will society adapt? Perhaps technologists will devise novel tools to detect machine-generated disinformation. Or new legal and ethical guardrails may be required. Either way, the coming waves of technological change will challenge conceptions of truth and test human resilience.
Generative AI’s Inflection Point
Just as media adapted to the disruption wrought by tech platforms and creators, a new technological force emerged. AI tools like ChatGPT gained notoriety for their ability to generate shockingly human-like text, graphics, and code.
DALL-E stunned observers by conjuring intricate images from text prompts. Stable Diffusion showed the democratizing potential of AI by open-sourcing image generation. These generative models crossed an inflection point of usefulness, foreshadowing their coming impact.
For investors and entrepreneurs, generative AI presents a golden opportunity alongside challenges. While incumbents face displacement, there are possibilities for new business models and partnerships. User acquisition and preventing misuse remain open questions.
Much as mobile challenged assumptions around consumers’ digital habits, generative AI compels rethinking content creation and distribution. As media navigated past disruptions, human creativity remained resilient by adapting to new technological realities. Though the way forward is unclear, the expanding capabilities of generative models will likely transform media once again.
Publishers face immense pressure in the AI age, as generative models threaten entrenched business models. But with the right strategies, they could leverage AI to reinvent themselves.
This period of disruption, though challenging, can catalyze innovation. Publishers possess invaluable data and content for training next-gen AI if partnered ethically.
Yet complex questions remain about copyright and content usage. Some publishers, like the New York Times, have taken bold stands by blocking AI systems from scraping their content without permission. Legal action may follow, as debates intensify around intellectual property rights in the machine age.
In Part 3, we’ll explore how publishers might collaborate with AI for mutual benefit rather than just combat. With care and courage, both original creators and augmented intelligence can thrive.
But stark choices lie ahead for publishers, with no easy answers. Will they help fuel the rise of generative models or staunchly resist? The implications will shape the future of media and technology alike.
Stay tuned as we map the frontier between human ingenuity and artificial intelligence. Publishers must navigate wisely to ensure technology elevates creativity rather than replacing it. Their revival hinges on bridging this divide.
TL;DR: Part 2 of the “Shifting Horizons” series, titled “The Aftershocks of Upheaval: Media & Publishing in the Wake of 2008,” examines the profound changes in the media landscape following the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis accelerated the shift from print to digital media, with mobile apps and social media becoming dominant platforms for content consumption and advertising. This era saw the rise of individual creators and influencers on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, who challenged traditional media’s gatekeeper role. However, this democratization of content creation also led to the proliferation of misinformation, as social media enabled the spread of false narratives. The article also discusses the impact of generative AI tools like ChatGPT, DALL-E, and Stable Diffusion, which have revolutionized content creation and pose both opportunities and challenges for the media industry. Publishers are now grappling with how to adapt to and integrate these AI technologies, facing difficult decisions about copyright, content usage, and the balance between human creativity and artificial intelligence. The next part of the series will explore potential collaborations between publishers and AI for mutual benefit.