medium-function disaggregation

[apparently the only way to comment on Clay Shirky's blog is to backtrack. so here goes a comment on his post about Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.]

"Society doesn't need newspapers. What we need is journalism."

So it goes with cars. (What we need isn't cars [*cough*, the auto industry], but transportation.) And with global government. (What we need isn't a global government, but global governance.)

For lack of a sexier term, I call this phenomenon medium-function disaggregation, and I consider it part of the ongoing trajectory that media and their functions go through. It's when a medium becomes less effective at satisfying the function it was originally intended for – in a relative sense (because more effective alternatives have emerged), and/or in an absolute one. The medium effectively goes through an identity crisis, as its raison d'etre is challenged, and the function becomes more liquid, able to inhabit other/new media. And our attention shifts to the meta-level, i.e. to a higher level of organization, from the level of the medium to the level of the function:

"When we shift our attention from 'save newspapers' to 'save society', the imperative changes from 'preserve the current institutions' to 'do whatever works.' And what works today isn't the same as what used to work."

Government, cars, and newspapers are undergoing a temporary disaggregation of medium and function. This is a season, i.e. the same seasons recur, albeit differently in different years. Medium-function disaggregation: 'tis the season for experimentation.

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