Feb 23, 2010

Atoms aren't the new bits but...

 In WIRED 18.02, editor-in-chief Chris Anderson pens one more of his soon-to-be-stretched-into-a-book piece - Atoms are the new bits. If it does make it to book form, like his last effort it is likely to be a thick book with a thin idea.

His basic premise is probably uncontestable: "If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world."

It hardly seems the stuff of revolutions, though. Joel Johnson at Gizmodo plucks apart many of the arguments made in the piece, including the prophetic promise of the headline. (It is true that the cost of copying and manipulating atoms is falling, but as Chris Anderson should know, free is a totally different species.)

My own feeling as I read and re-read the piece was that Chris had a tenable story within the stuff he's talking about - but instead of concentrating on it, he reached for the untenable and outrageous claim he couldn't back.

At several places, he hovers over what to me was the real idea behind the piece. Here, for instance:
Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits. 
Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.
And here:
The academic way to put this is that global supply chains have become scale-free, able to serve the small as well as the large, the garage inventor and Sony.
Which brings me to the real plausible claim that I think Chris could have/should have made with the piece. It's not that atoms are the new bits, but that the 'global supply chain' is the new internet.
About the author:
Iqbal Mohammed is Head of Innovation & Strategy at a digital innovation agency serving the DACH and wider European markets. He is the winner of the WPP Atticus Award for Best Original Published Writing in Marketing & Communication.
You can reach him via email or Twitter.


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