As I’ve been fond of saying this year, you’ve lived to see interesting times. But in the midst of a time of strange comings and goings, was it all so unpredictable? On the odd chance that some of you – particularly some of our younger readers – weren’t already familiar with it, I wanted to take you back to a sort of viral video phenomenon that came out roughly thirteen years ago. Back in 2004 I was in my earliest days of political writing online and was totally captivated by a strange video which showed up one day. It was an eight minute flash movie titled EPIC 2014, released by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson. It was seriously creepy and presented a vision of a dystopian future centered around the rise of blogging and online commerce. This was in the earlier days of Amazon and Google, both of which feature prominently in the film.
It begins with a brief history of the internet from 1989 to 2004 (which is when it was produced) but it’s portrayed as having come from the future… in 2014. It describes the decline and fall of the New York Times and the rise of customized shopping and consumption, both of products and… news. As I said, it’s really not all that long, so I’ll pause here and give you a chance to watch for yourself. (Note: you’ll need headphones or speakers for this.)
So how far off were they? Our own Andrew Malcolm noted in a previous column on media bias that Amazon did wind up absorbing the news… just not Google News.
Jeff Bezos, the far-sighted inventor of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, aptly admitted this week: “Eventually reading a print paper will be like owning a horse.”
The New York Times didn’t totally close or become “a newsletter for the elite or the elderly,” but their subscriptions plummeted and their brief dalliance with a pay wall for much of the content was a disaster. They got the whole Googlezon thing wrong since the companies didn’t merge, but the rest was pretty much right. For the entire shopping experience, Amazon and Google don’t simply make guesses about products to push toward you by checking your browser history… they actually read your emails and all of your other social media output and formulate product offerings to match.
The movie predicted that Google would offer, the Google Grid, a universal platform offering an unlimited amount of space and bandwidth that can be used to store anything. It allows users to manage their information two ways: store it privately or publish it to the entire grid. Okay… so it’s not all one product but they give everyone 15GB of Gmail space, photo storage, YouTube, Drive and any number of ways to publish your content and opinions for the world to see… all pretty much for free.
The final evolution was in news consumption, where a construct named EPIC would allow you to tailor your own news and opinion consumption needs. They described it as follows:
At its best, EPIC is a summary of the world—deeper, broader and more nuanced than anything ever available before … but at its worst, and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow and sensational. But EPIC is what we wanted. It is what we chose. And its commercial success preempted any discussions of media and democracy or journalistic ethics.
Can you imagine? It was 2004 and they were already predicting #FakeNews.
Somebody needs to make a 2017 version of this and see how close they can come to 2030… assuming SMOD hasn’t arrived by then.