This is Part Two of a two part series on the history of storytelling and how technology is a disruptive force that both creates and destroys, with a special eye toward tourism. In Part One, we started 35,000 years ago in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave of southern France, moved through the ancient Greeks, skipped over Thomas Edison, and ended with the mid-19th century invasion of Japan by the “Black Ships.” Whew! What a trip!
If you like to live dangerously, you can start here with Part Two and just dive right in, or, as I recommend, you may want to review Part One to get caught up. Either way, we pick up where we left off, with the Black Ships ~ a useful metaphor for how insulated organizations are sometimes forced to change by the threat of total annihilation.
Welcome to the second and final part of…
The Meteor that Slammed Tinseltown
Black Ships and Pirate Flags
Sometimes it takes a gun pointing at your noggin to evoke change, and the recording industry had its own form of stubborn, self-imposed isolation. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade group that claims to represent the U.S. recording industry, fought a format consumers liked (MP3) and nastily sued them when they tried to use it. It took black ships to force change, and two of them came from outside the isolated and backward country, that is, from outside the industry mainstream. The ships were named Napster and Apple, and they both flew the pirate flag of computer companies.
Napster validated content-streaming on demand, a service now legitimately offered by everyone from Amazon to Netflix. Apple validated the mobile MP3 player (“1,000 songs in your pocket.”) and today we have many excellent competitors. With the combination of the two, streaming and mobile, now we can watch movies and even take tours, on demand, at the time and place of our choosing. Apple’s iTunes also famously broke the back of Edison’s end-to-end business model, allowing artists to sell directly to consumers, while fully retaining ownership of their content. Nothing has been the same since, and we are really just getting started.
Rock and Roll Will Never Die
Some said, recordings would spell doom for live performances, but it was not to be. Live is still very much alive! I had the good fortune of seeing my hero Eric Clapton play live once, and there is simply no substitute for live performances, and there never will be. Tour guides, who are today mostly live performers, should not view recordings as a competitor, but rather as a compliment, a way to preserve their stories and expand their talent to new audiences. But there would be no Clapton, no Steppenwolf, no rock and roll even, without blues legend Robert Johnson and the 16 scratchy recordings he made on a relatively crude recording device in the 1930’s. Live and recordings are a virtuous cycle.
Silence is not Golden
Whenever crisis unfolds, and an entrenched enterprise undergoes a massive transition, there will be some who hold on to the old ways, disparaging the new, and failing to recognize the vast opportunity created by the winds of change. Those become fossils. Mary Pickford, perhaps the most famous and well-paid actors of the early years of silent film, turned up her nose at sound (“talkies”), saying, “adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo.” Sound was her undoing, and she retired in 1933. Even the great Edison called his own baby ugly, saying talkies had “spoiled everything” for him. Afterall…“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” (H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.)
Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward,” and while that is generally true, I think a defensible forecast can be drawn from the dots passing through the various factions of the entertainment industry. The music business is fumbling its way through a massive transition, doing itself great harm by resisting change. Film is doing a bit of better, as any Netflix subscriber can attest. Print publishing has done the best job of all, and ebooks now outsell paper. And tourism? It’s too soon to tell. Billowing plumes of smoky ash from the meteor’s colossal impact still obscure our vision. But we have the lessons of those who preceded us from which to learn, and hopefully, by which to survive. Their lesson is simple:
Ignore and perish. Adapt…and live.