About the Author

Nicco Mele is a lecturer in public policy and was previously the director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. He took over leadership of the Center in 2016 after serving as Senior Vice President and Deputy Publisher of the Los Angeles Times and as the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Journalism at the University of Southern California. He is the author of The End of Big: How The Internet Makes David the New Goliath and co-founder of EchoDitto (now Echo & Co.), a leading internet strategy and consulting firm. Mele also is a board member of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.

Book Description

In The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath, Internet pioneer and Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Nicco Mele shows how our ability to connect instantly, constantly, and globally is altering the exercise of power with breathtaking speed. Business, politics, and culture are being disrupted in revolutionary ways. Many of these changes are for the good. But Nicco argues that the realities of technology come with a troubling downside. He asks:

How does radical thinking underpin the design of everyday technology—and undermine power?

How do we hold institutions accountable when investigative journalism is being replaced by ad-hoc bloggers, phone videos, and tweets?

Web-based micro-businesses can out-compete major corporations. But who then enforces basic regulations—product safety, privacy protection, fraud, and tax collection?

As our two-party system grinds to a halt, can government produce leaders we need – or demagogues for special interests?

Currency, health and safety systems, rule of law: When these erode, are we better off?

Nicco argues that unless we exercise deliberate choices over the use of our technologies, we doom ourselves to a future that tramples human values, generates chaos in our social structures, and destroys rather than enhances freedom. This landmark book is both alarming and hopeful — thought-provoking and passionately-argued – and will change the way you interact with technology forever.

Reviews

“Anyone who is not asleep is unsettled by the speed and sweep of technological change, aware that with the force of a category 10 storm it upends our workplace, our institutions, leisure, culture, individual and communal behavior. To comprehend the awesome changes we have and will experience, the opportunities and the pitfalls, Nicco Mele’s The End of Big is a clear-eyed, compellingly written account bursting with vivid anecdotes and analysis.” — Ken Auletta, Author and New Yorker writer


“Radical connectivity changes EVERYTHING, says Nicco Mele, and it’s hard to disagree. From how we shop to how we work to how we govern, The End of Big means the end of top-down, centralized hierarchical control. What it will look like when we get there remains blurry, but we can be assured that it will be radically different from the past. This book is an engaging guide to the underlying forces that are eroding all that is BIG, and its many examples will pull you in to this sweeping story of change.” — Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School

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Transcript

Nicco Mele:

Hi. My name is Nicco Mele and I'm the author of The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath, out from St. Martin's press in April, 2013. The book is about the tremendous diffusion of power that's happened over the last 35 or 40 years. If if in 1970, I had asked you to describe a computer, assuming you knew what a computer was, you would've described something that might fill a large room, a Cray supercomputer from the mid 70s cost about 5 million bucks and was really only accessible to the biggest institutions of the time, to big universities, to big companies and to big governments, especially the Pentagon and the Department of Defense. Today, 130 million Americans have smart phones with computing power equal to or greater than a Cray supercomputer from the 70s. That's a giant shift in power and it's gone from institutions to individuals with significant consequences for all of the hierarchical institutions of our time.

Each chapter of the book looks at a different institution, big news, big political parties, big government, big industry, big manufacturing, big companies, big entertainment, big armies, big universities and expertise broadly and looks at how these technologies, the combination of the internet and smart phones, has changed the nature of power in these institutions; changed what authority means, what credibility means, what expertise looks like. It's not entirely about technology though. Many of these institutions haven't done a very good job over the last 35 years. Given that some of these institutions haven't done a good job, people are using technology to opt out of them, to create alternative ways of doing things. In higher education, the cost of a four year college degree in the United States has skyrocketed. Its economic value has plummeted. The Department of Labor says that 19% of parking attendance have a four year college degree and some college debt.

It's no wonder that people are looking at online classes and startups like Coursera, Udacity, Khans Academy as alternatives to education. That is in many ways very exciting. It opens up lots of new avenues and possibilities for learning and expertise, but it's also very terrifying. The university's in this country have been a crucial part of credentialing authority and of basic research. It has... going to have consequences across the board. The book, The End of Big, looks at what happens when these big institutions aren't doing a great job and people are able to opt out using this technology that transfers power from institutions to individuals. Sometimes it's exciting and fantastic and sometimes it leaves something to be desired or it's even scary.

It's worth noting that it's not the end of big institutions entirely, it's just the end of the old ones. There are seven large companies that control a substantial amount of our online life; amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft/Skype and Twitter. Those companies also need to understand some of the values and roles of the institutions in the past and figure out ways to incorporate those values or to allow these old institutions to be reformed and have a new life. The core values of our democracy are really essential and important and their hard won. When we look at the case of journalism, there's... Since since the Berlin wall, the number of journalists in this country has been cut almost in half with significant consequences for investigative journalism and holding power accountable. While that's not really entirely the fault of technology, there are a number of factors at play, it nevertheless is a real concern. Part of the reason I wrote the book is to help us imagine a future that combines the best of the past and the best of the future. Thank you.