To be powerful, a medium needs two things:
- The ability to reach people who take action
- The ability for someone in charge to change what those people see and hear and do
The telephone reaches a lot of people, but AT&T has very little power because they have no influence over who makes phone calls.
Lots of people have Sony TVs, but it’s Netflix that has the cultural power because they decide which shows are promoted on the start screen.
People in the music business are flummoxed by the number of new acts that are showing up out of nowhere and becoming hits on TikTok. They’re talking about how powerful this company is.
But it’s not. It’s simply reporting on what people are doing, not actively causing it.
The folks with the power are the anonymous engineers, tweaking algorithms without clear awareness of what the impact might be.
Google and Amazon used to invite authors to come speak, at the author’s expense. The implied promise was that they’re so powerful, access to their people was priceless. But the algorithm writers weren’t in the room. You ended up spending time with people who pretended they had influence, but were more like weatherpeople, not weather makers.
Reporting the weather is different from creating the weather.
There are still cultural weather makers, but they might not be the people we think they are.