I’ve been a fan of Michael Crichton’s fiction (Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man, etc.) since my teens, and a fan of his opinion pieces since my thirties. Even so I had missed this gem:
Today’s mass media is tomorrow’s fossil fuel. Michael Crichton is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.
By Michael Crichton, Wired Magazine [04.01.93]
I am the author of a novel about dinosaurs, a novel about US-Japanese trade relations, and a forthcoming novel about sexual harassment – what some people have called my dinosaur trilogy. But I want to focus on another dinosaur, one that may be on the road to extinction. I am referring to the American media. And I use the term extinction literally. To my mind, it is likely that what we now understand as the mass media will be gone within ten years. Vanished, without a trace.
Well, it’s nearly 14 years on and the Decrepid Gray Crone of Gotham lurches on, as do the other outlets that I refer to as the Lame Stream Media. But few would argue that they are more than ghosts of their 1993 selves…
His 1993 prediction of mass-media extinction now looks on target.
By Jack Shaffer
Had Crichton’s prediction been on track, by 2002 the New York Times should have been half-fossilized. But the newspaper’s vital signs were so positive that its parent company commissioned a 1,046-foot Modernist tower, which now stands in Midtown Manhattan. Other trends predicted by Crichton in 1993 hadn’t materialized in 2002, either. Customized news turned out to be harder to create than hypothesize; news consumers weren’t switching to unfiltered sources such as C-SPAN; and the mainstream media weren’t on anyone’s endangered species list.
When I interviewed Crichton in 2002 about his failed predictions for Slate, he was anything but defensive.
“I assume that nobody can predict the future well. But in this particular case, I doubt I’m wrong; it’s just too early,” Crichton said via e-mail.
As we pass his prediction’s 15-year anniversary, I’ve got to declare advantage Crichton. Rot afflicts the newspaper industry, which is shedding staff, circulation, and revenues. It’s gotten so bad in newspaperville that some people want Google to buy the Times and run it as a charity! Evening news viewership continues to evaporate, and while the mass media aren’t going extinct tomorrow, Crichton’s original observations about the media future now ring more true than false. Ask any journalist.
I’ve an old colleague I need to lookup in another four years or so to collect on my bet that the NYT would, if still extant, be trading as penny stock ten years hence.
It’s coming slower than we anticipated, but it is coming.
Hat Tip: Ed Driscoll writing at Instapundit.