Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Bioluminescence 2

Photo by Jed Sundwall

Creative Commons BY-SA

I was invited to speak at the Danish Media Festival (with the unfortunate name in Danish of "fagfestival '10") - a conference organized by the Danish journalists union in a small town north of Copenhagen called Odense. Bjarke, the CEO of Storyplanet, one of my early stage investments and a good friend was involved in coordinating and my old friend Henrik Føhns was going to manage the session.

Back in 2008, I visited Copenhagen for the first time to participate in New Media Days and enjoyed it very much so I decided to take the speaking engagement although I'm generally trying to cut down conferences.

Ever since July, I've been trying to scuba dive every week so I asked some friends to introduce me to a good dive shop in Copenhagen to challenge the chilly Baltic Sea. I was able to track down Kingfish Dive & Travel, which agreed to arrange a night dive in the Baltic for me.

For some reason, many of my best friends are journalists and I really enjoy the company of journalists - they have a important role in society to be inquisitive, always questioning, bold, brave and expressive. In recent years, I've been saddened by the somewhat somber mood of my journalist friends as the industry that supports the elite corps of scrappy intellectuals melts from under them. I feel somewhat responsible for this as a proponent of and a participant in the advancement of the Internet and the amateur revolution.

Also, I find it interesting that while journalists are some of the most risk taking, thoughtful and irreverent people I know in their professional work, they're also some of the most risk adverse and conservative thinkers when it comes to business models and distribution.

I realize there are always exceptions to the rule and I probably have the benefit of a self-selected network of journalists who tend to think the way that I do, but I found the journalists that I met at the conference and in the "masters class" small workshop that I did with Bjarke to be thoughtful and very open minded about thinking about the future.

On the other hand, while being open-minded is an essential first step to moving forward, it's really just the first step and getting an intuitive feel for how the Internet works and how to "look under the hood" is an important part of thinking about the future of the medium.

At some point, as media scaled and people specialized, journalists, as well as many other professionals, became more and more separated from understanding the tools of their trade. The tools became black boxes. Black boxes help things scale, but in order to cause fundamental change, black boxes have to be opened.

One of the problems with the media industry is that the people with the keys to the black boxes don't understand journalism deeply and journalists don't have the key to the black boxes.

The key to success of open source software and Silicon Valley in general is that the developers both understood the market as well as the tools.

However, the trend is that the tools are becoming easier to understand and as open innovation has moved "up the stack" starting with the hardware, the network, the content management systems and now the design and the content, I think there is a huge opportunity for journalists to start participating in the innovation process.

The other important point is that the most important success stories of the Internet were only obvious in retrospect and the innovations were created, in many cases, by non-obvious innovators in locations increasingly in non-US countries, Linux in Finland, Skype in Estonia, ICQ in Israel, in the UK, Ruby on Rails in Japan and Denmark, to name a few.

I think that the lack of Hollywood's massive incumbent inertial and the huge domestic markets of the big countries gives smaller countries like Denmark an advantage to innovate without some of the barriers and assumptions that might hinder innovation in larger markets. Also, the smaller community allows a more collegial and collaborative atmosphere that I notice was pervasive at all of the layers that I interacted in Denmark.

Last night, protecting my crotch with one hand and holding my gear in place with the other, I jumped off of a pier 4 meters above the water into the pitch-dark 5ºC water in Lynetten. As the water soaked into my hood, I felt a brain freeze headache and saw darkness engulf me as I descended into the depths of the Baltic Sea and watched the windmills and harbor lights fade away. As we sat at the bottom of the sea in complete darkness, my dive buddy Zach and I extinguished our lights and allowed our eyes to settle.

After our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we saw thousands of tiny points of lights appear as the bioluminescent plankton lit the sea floor and enveloped us with a swirling cover of sparkling light. I put away my light and breathed deeply as my body adjusted to the water, my heart rate and breathing slowed down and was able to see and enjoy the immense, vibrant and beautiful Baltic Sea in its natural and completely new form.

I thought about the cold darkness that the media industry and journalism is being plunged into. Maybe turning off the battery powered lights that had lead the way in the past to allow the thousands of tiny, bright, natural and disorganized lights lead the way through the new landscape might be a metaphor for how the successful journalists would navigate the future.


Hi Joi,

Saw you at SVC2C (particularly loved your slapdown of BT's plans for two-tier Internet access. Told many people about that.)

John Lilly suggested I should talk to you but I didn't get the chance. This is why:

If you like it, you have my details.

Kind regards,

Very well written, Joi; one can feel the water temperature and
almost see the krill lighting up.
One for your next collection of essays.

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