Monday, March 19, 2012


On September 30, 2009, I was standing with about 2,000 of my lifelong friends outside old Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The machine-like new Giants Stadium loomed over us with little subtlety to recommend it. As we waited patiently for our chance to be first into the general admission section, we heard the sounds of the band's sound check. We didn't recognize the song.

The country was at the very bottom of the great recession. Our financial institutions and many of our industries were in doubt. A new president had been elected, but he seemed mired in partison bickering and legislative dysfunction. Three weeks before, the Tea Party Movement had marched on Washington. Overseas, the seeds of Arab Spring were being sown.

An hour later, the concert started, and we heard the song for the first time. It was Wrecking Ball, written to commemorate the last set of concerts in old Giants Stadium before it would be torn down. But as with every Springsteen song, we knew it was about something else entirely. Wrecking Ball is about joyfully tearing down worn-out institutions and replacing them with new things filled with hope.

I've been thinking about how it has become so much easier to do new things, even big things, hopeful things, crazy things.

A team of four people, with a bit of help from three others, has built, which, apart from approval from our payments provider, is ready to turn on. Even four years ago, it would have taken twice the work to do the same thing. Building on open source frameworks, plug-in modules, servers in the cloud, third party APIs, and SaaS development tools, and without really knowing what we're doing, we've been able to create something that didn't exist six months ago.

But it's not just software development that has given do-something power to us all. Social media- Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, et cetera, has given us the ability to form groups, act collectively, cooperate with people we never knew existed, and even meet them in person. Blogs and podcasts make is possible to argue with each other in depth and spread new ideas and new possibilities. How hard it would have been, even ten years ago, to mobilize massive opposition to a legislative done deal and wipe it off the agenda? Not even oppressive governments can survive if they provoke this new kind of of power.

When change comes, there are always people who drag their heels and do what they can to stop it. There's another set that denies the possibility that anything they do matters. But there's another set, born to optimism, that is ready to make the future happen on their own terms.

I've been writing a lot about the changes in libraries and publishing that are being brought about by the shift to digital reading and ebooks. When I wrote that Random House's price increases for lendable ebooks presented an opportunity for change, one set of reactions was biblio-fatalistic. Librarians said that publishers would never listen to them. Publishers said that Amazon was going to destroy the publishing industry anyway, not to mention copy-piracy.

But I've also met a lot of people over the last two years in the optimist column, They are finding each other and becoming stronger. A common theme in this group is technology. There's not a more "create-the-future" collection of people than the New York Tech Meetup, which gathers 700 people once a month to celebrate newly made things. #NYTM has a lot of spiritual cousins. I've participated in Code Meets Print, Code4Lib and Books in Browsers meetups, conferences and listservs. The ability to code is, to some extent, the ability to adapt and build new things; people with the tools to adapt and take advantage of new opportunities are naturally prone to accept change. And guess what? You can still learn to code, you don't have to ask permission.

But optimism is not confined to technologists. Participants in the growing Digital Book World community brand themselves as "publishing optimists"- not that anyone I've met at Tools of Change or the Publishing Point would ever admit to fatalism. Certainly, as layoffs sweep the big publishers and bookstores close left and right, there are a lot of people in publishing who can't imagine a different world, let alone a better one, and hope the industry changes over their dead bodies. But there are also countless people who are doing things that haven't been done before. In a way, every book is a start-up enterprise, every author an entrepreneur, and these days, it's just more so.

On the library side, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is running on 100% high optimism fuel (and a bit of grant money). But that's just one engine of change in the library world. I've used this blog to highlight tiny efforts such as the Uni Project and the Read/Write Library Chicago, but libraries ranging from the New York Public Library to rural libraries serving tiny communities are doing amazing things. There's a group of librarians that has organized via Facebook that calls itself the "ALA ThinkTank". It started out when a group of New Jersey librarians banded together to rent a house and save travel budget for an American Library Association conference. But they ended up learning from each other and finding ways to help each other, and have since grown to almost a thousand members.

I've come up with a label for the attitude we have to adopt during the torrent of changes in the "reading ecosystem". It's "MakeItHappenism". The label comes from the official ALA ThinkTank  hashtags, devised by ThinkTank founder JP Porcaro: #MakeItHappen and #PartyHard. Because although we each have the power to Make It Happen, it's not Going To Happen unless we can work together, feel good about it and have fun doing so. So party hard and let's make it happen together.

29 songs later, Rosie came out and jumped a little lighter.

Enhanced by Zemanta


Contribute a Comment