Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Reading :: An Army of Davids

Originally posted: Tue, 28 Mar 2006 22:11:56

An Army of Davids : How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths

by Glenn Reynolds

Glenn Reynolds is the University of Tennessee law professor behind the wildly popular libertarian-leaning blog Instapundit. For years now, his blog has been a sort of central clearinghouse of information, particularly serving the right half of the blogosphere. And now he has written a popular book -- not about the website or even the phenomenon of blogs, but the greater shifts he is seeing in how work, lives, and culture are being distributed, shifted, remixed, rearticulated, and reauthorized. The overall theme of An Army of Davids is that the "Davids" -- individuals with limited resources but access to networked information technologies -- are able to take on the "Goliaths," the massive corporations and governments that used to have a lock on production and coordination work. Reynolds draws on the sorts of examples you might expect, such as the Rathergate incident, but also discusses manufacturing, music production and distribution, publishing, and the service economy.

The book is, I emphasize, a popular book, and consequently there's not a lot new here for people who have been assiduously following knowledge economy developments. In fact, there's a lot of simplification and glossing. Reynolds, for instance, rearticulates the thesis that Thomas W. Malone pushes in his popular book, that organizations are changing primarily because the cost of communication has decreased dramatically. He draws on examples that Hugh Hewitt used in Blog, such as Rathergate and the Trent Lott incident. And he touches on themes of individual empowerment that have been a staple of new economy/knowledge economy literature, while eliding the sorts of criticisms that occur in more critical, scholarly works. An Army of Davids tends to give a positive, enthusiastic view of the possibilities generated by widespread, inexpensive access to networked technologies, and it is clearly influenced by its author's libertarian views.

But what's wrong with that? The book doesn't pretend to be scholarship, and it accomplishes its mission of laying out -- in clear terms, with well told narratives -- the promises and possibilities of networked technologies. It gives plentiful examples of how things are changing the way we work and think today, concretely, and speculates about how those changes might be carried forward in the next five, ten, or twenty years. Few people have thought as much about the cultural impact of these technologies, and few people have absorbed and written about so many instances of them. An Army of Davids is not critical scholarship, but it doesn't aim to be and it doesn't have to be. I would recommend it over Blog, The Cluetrain Manifesto, or any other popular book I've read about the subject. But read it in close proximity with Castells.

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