In the age beyond the information age, the only thing that matters is a good story. But let’s recap first:
The farmer was the star of the agrarian revolution, and being a farmer or fisherman was a ticket to the middle class. Then came the blacksmith as the star of the first industrial revolution, along with various classes of metalworkers as railroads and the steam engine showed up. The mechanical engineer then emerged as the star of the second industrial revolution as internal combustion engines made cars and eventually aircraft possible. As the 20th century moved past the world wars, the electronic engineer and later the computer scientist became the stars of the third industrial revolution, which brought the transistor, the integrated circuit and the personal computer. Now the fourth industrial revolution (41R, Industry 4.0) is here with technologies like blockchains, metaverses, artificial intelligence, renewable energy and 3D printing.
— Kingsley Ndiewo
The end of the 3rd industrial revolution brought with it the internet, that single superstar technology of the Information Age. Nothing has permeated our lives more completely as the internet has. And the 4th industrial revolution is building on that. Everything runs online these days. But the information age is giving way to something else.
The Old Ways Overthrown
Information used to belong to big website owners — news sites, Wikipedia, Google — the pillars of the internet. But then the democratization of the internet by social media led to an explosion of information sources, and in place of several large and relatively trusted sources came millions of smaller sources. Individuals and small teams are now the primary content creators on the internet, churning out video after video and article after article on Medium, YouTube, Tiktok, Twitter and many other places. Even books are now a free-for-all where everyone with the slightest discomfort writes a book about it — grief porn, and everyone with an opinion of any kind also self-publishes. Add that to the millions of aspiring poets and novelists and you get the Kindle side of Amazon.
The Battle for Attention
Out of this mess there is inevitably a vicious battle for attention. Everyone has a link they want to share, a channel to subscribe to or some cause you need to donate to. The arms race for attention is so intense that whole armies of bot accounts are deployed to generate fake engagement — Instagram followers, likes, comments and so on.
In this new age where everyone is a creator, and there is less and less of a pure consumer of information, the focus and priorities of industries have shifted dramatically. Gone are the days when merely building a good product would be enough to get customers, when merely having great skills would be enough for a job. Now what matters is whether your story is compelling. Standard cover letters have been replaced by marketing-heavy one-pagers that tell the tale of how one overcame great odds and is a member of some marginal group and so on. Universities want a story for admission, employers want a story for hiring and the market in general wants compelling stories before they pull out their wallets.
This is the age of the story, ladies and gentlemen, and the guru of the story is the influencer. That Instagram account with millions of followers, that Twitter account with millions of followers — those are the super weapons of the new marketplace. On Youtube the metric is views and subscribers. Elon Musk can shake the price of Dogecoin with a tweet, and can influence the price of Tesla shares in the same way. Not because of his great intelligence but because of the sheer audience of his Twitter account.
Because followers and views are the currency of this new age, there are tools and services dedicated to supplying fake followers and fake views. The internet is an online public square now, and he who shouts loudest gets heard. Donald Trump demonstrated this so eloquently in his fairly sudden political career that everyone was forced to pay attention to the power of a Twitter account. Countries are scrambling to regulate online expression, and to prevent influencers from influencing. But the wiser ones are embracing it — look at how Ukraine has leveraged social media and the wider internet to make Volodymyr Zelenskyy essentially the second head of state (after Trump) to also be a successful influencer.
What’s your story? How much success have you had shouting it above the general din? Well we don’t have to ask, we can just check your follower count.