I wasn’t looking for ‘An Army of Davids’ when I bought this book by Glenn Reynolds. The first thing that struck me was the title. I liked the idea of reading a book with my name on it, but as I read the liner notes from Seth Godin and Ray Kurzweil, I was convinced this was a worthwhile read for any media professional.

Reynolds, a well-known blogger from Instapundit , a fellow Tennessean and law professor from the University of Tennessee riffs on technological changes empower individuals to compete with ‘Goliaths’ from all kinds of markets affected in the wake of change.

He joins several other luminaries who are witnessing change and how it’s sculpting the future we imagine and he comes to the forefront of my library with an impressive resume and some interesting new ideas for the future.


Along with the popularity from his blog, Reynolds has a resume including a spot on Al Gore’s campaign roster in the nineties, a pro-bono lawyer on the X-Prize and National Space Foundation, Advisor to The International Space Council, a science fiction fan and part-time recording engineer – a variety of interests which have undoubtly shaped his ideas about how technology is reversing the polarity of power.

The book is a bit slow gaining momentum as Reynolds summarizes our accelerating pace of change. What he borrows from Alvin Toffler , Seth Godin , Ray Kurzweil may tire adept futurists, but he does give – as he explains in his later chapters – a front line report.

Now more than ever, it’s clear giant corporations are having a tough time coping with changes. Cheaper computing power and manufacturing worldwide are tightening profits, increasing the need to get to the market first and once you get there, staying nimble enough to change with the flavor of the year.

In fact, many smaller corporations are far more efficient than Industrial Age icons that once promised a pension plan and a future for your children.

There are several revelations inside the book and early on, ‘An Army of David’ quotes Karl Marx’s goal. Reynolds states that even the socialist czar’s ideas for the futured are tied to a “technoligical paradigm. “His desired outcome, a world in which ‘capital’ is in the hands of the masses, not just the few, may ironically come about through the technological capitalism that Marx’s heirs despised.”

The future has already arrived – it’s just not evenly distributed.
William Gibson>

This is another great quote from the popular cybernet author who coined the phrase “cyberspace” and it’s inside this world of virtual connectivity that small has become the new big.

The book begins by looking at way things have changed. In particular we’re moving from factories and plants, places where we work with our hands to environments where we work more with our heads and many times this is not at the office.

Reynolds discusses observations about the growing workers who are making a living as home-based eBay merchants – more than 700,000 and counting full-time sellers. There are many who could close the doors to their office altogether and work from their home and I’ve been doing that off and on now for about the past decade, ever since I bought my own personal computer.

Although some may may consider this is a luxury, anyone who has ever worked from home can tell you that more often, you’re actually working more hours and to our credit, some of our best ideas come away from the clock.

Nothing really new here. It wasn’t long ago people worked as specialized artisans. Here was an era prior to the Industrial Age when most goods and services were quite the opposite of the Industrial Age assembly line and the legion of workers governed by accountants and mass production.

“The secret to success in big business and politics for the twenty-first century, I think, will involve finding a way to capitalize on the phenomenon of lots of people doing what they want to do, rather than – as in previous centuries – figuring out ways to lots of people do what you want them to do” says Reynolds in this book.

Several other benefits from the home-based work force are described and include interesting topics like less crime as workers move out of urban areas, stronger families with kids watching their parents at work, reduced traffic, a shift in both politics and the economy too.

Americans are spending more on services and relatively fewer on goods in this new era. In this age of abundance, it may be true we’re spending more of our income than ever before on restaurants, travel, entertainment and healthcare and not on refrigerators, blue jeans and cars.

This observation was mirrored by Daniel Pink in his book “A Whole New Mind” and I particularly remember his description of why this has taken place and he cites the three A’s – Abundance, Asia and Automation.

This age of abundance has created what ‘An Army of Davids’ refers to as “The Comfy Chair Revolution” and although it sounds like a echo of the coach potato, this concept has to do with what’s happening in the world of products and services. Reynolds talke of the ‘third place’ and describes his idea by discussing the notion that giving a customer a comfy chair has more impact that running ads on the superbowl among consumers.

You’ll notice the theme concepts in restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream shops, book stores and the like. Instead of shopping for low prices, it’s common practice for the new age American consumer to trade with businesses that suggest a kind of lifestyle. Why would anyone buy a Starbucks coffee, or Joe Muggs $5.00 latte? Why pay double for books when you can usually buy books for half-price on Amazon? Some suggest it’s how you feel about what you buy these days and companies are searching for anything to make life easier and more attractive

I couldn’t believe it either, but a few weeks ago, I was in a Krystal in Johnson City to learn they had free Wi-fi. It seems that businesses are indeed reaping new rewards in the form of impulse buys in comfortable places that exhort customer loyality by plenty of comfy chairs.

“At many independent book sellers, the employees like books better than people and want you to know it.”

An Army of David’s eems to retrograde and cover a lot of ground that many have already eluded to among marketers and on the subject of style – Reynolds has obviously read Seth Godin.

In the vain of ‘The Purple Cow’ we’re reminded that attractivceness matters. Quoting Virginia Postell in The Substance of Style – “aesthetic values matter and are a major driver of economic activity.

Daniel Pink’s book also attributes this current phenomonen to abundance claiming there are so many products on the shelf that it’s hard to stand out. From autos to Ipods, designer jeans and organic esoterica we like how these stylish products that stand apart from the rest for whatever reason and a good story line.

Glen Reynolds and I both share a passion for music. There’s a chapter on changes in the recording process and various discussions about the music industry and the FCC. This is helpful for primer of the new era, but I’ll admit that changes in this industry are worth noting with his subject matter – the little guys. We agree musicians have all the tools in a $50 software product to create amazing recordings. Standing out is still the problem though and the sooner I figure this out, I’ll write me a book.

“The more you tighten your grip, the more star sysmtes will trickle through your fingers.x
Princess Leia said to Grand Moff Tarkin

Toward’s the middle of this book, we finally get past the introduction and touch several new subjects intriguing for out times, especially the chaper ‘A Pack Not A Herd.’

It’s interesting to consider his statement, ‘unfortunately technology empowers the bad people as well as the good.’

From this statement, this book instills lasting ideas about the confusing world of terrorism we live and watch in our 21st century culture of fear and uncertainty.

The same tools we’re developing for good purposes have also enabled the small and obscure armies of killers and criminals with tools to assist them in their delusions. From hackers to suicide bombers, these tools truly make the small (in this case) – unfortunately big.

Specifically, there is a statement in this book about 9/11.

“Before September 11, the terrorists were the ones with the learning curve.” This statement by the author is supported with many descriptions about how difficult it would be twenty years ago to make a serious dent in our world conscious.” That was then, this is now, advancements in communication, hardware, munitions and the world’s collective media have turned the tables.

Reynolds continues – “On September 11th, the terrorist held all the cards.”

Terrorism continues to be a daily feed in our experience as a global citizen and we still have an advantage.

Societies who encourage open communication, quick thinking, decentralization, and broad dispersal of skills – along with a sense of individual responsibility – have an enourmous structural advantage over societies that don’t.

But tyrants and fanatics of whatever stripe cannot afford to encourage those traits in their citizens if they want to remain in power.

This chapter concludes with a plenty of hope and a few lessons. Reynolds describes how the passengers and crew on American Airlines Flight 93 adapted to this situation. He illustrates how within 109 minutes, this hi-jacked plane on 9/11 (the one destined for the white house) was overtaken by passengers who used their tecehnology, quick thing and responsibility to change the destiny of this planned terrorist attempt.

The New York waterfronts lived up to the notion that we are at our best when things are there worst. Moments after the destruction of the World Trade Center, maritimers and others on the waterfront evacuatted thousands from the city without FEMA, the Police or other Government directives.

I never really thought about how governments and media don’t like this type of human organizationm but Reynolds says the powers that be don’t like this kind of organization – “They don’t like it because people aren’t asking them what to do. Media doesn’t like it because they don’t have anyone to interview. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure that neither the terrorists nor the bureaucrats get their way.”

If you work in the media, Chapter Six “From Media to We-Dia” is a must read. Borrowing a term from Jim Treacher, Reynolds continues to support the thesis of this book with a look at how technology is empowering what the newspaper industry describes as ‘community journalism.’

The Internet has been referred to as many things. I remember the one ‘the CB radio of the nineties.’ In a way, it was, but unlike it’s roadside chatterbox, the Internet has integrated into society and we can as Ken Layne states – “fact check your ass.”

Many authors over the past decade have phrased our era as similar to what happened to the church during the reformation and the invention of the printing press. This is nothing new and for lack of a better term, we’ll call it the “Information Reformation” as Hugh Hewitt described it in ‘Blogs.”

Not only has technology initiated this dynamic shift of media power, Reynolds makes a couple of strong claims woring considering about newspapers and costing cutting, “Decades of cost cutting and corporate consolidation at newspapers, magazines and television networks have caused them to sharply reduce their core competency of news gathering and reporting. They’ve watered down their product over a series of individually imperceptible cost-cutting stages, until suddenly it’s reached a point where a lot of people have noticed that it lacks substance and flavor.”

The new flavor is coming street side and we’ve seen some of this phenomenon during techno-tragedies where witnesses with cell phones and video cameras. I the wake of hurricanes, sunamis and terrorist bombings in London and other places around the globe, these flash disasters are becing covered by individuals, not the big media. Glen doesn’t suggest these community journalists will replace Big Media, but I agree with him they are doing a better job at supplementing and challenging coverage and it’s unlikely this will slow down.

I imagine that television reporters might find insult in one his final comments on the ‘We-Media’ subject. Reynolds delivers a stomach punch refering to television reporters, as such.

“They have a bachelor’s degree in mass media or journalism, possibly the worst education possible outside a teach degree, I worked in television for four years producing newscasts every day. These reporters are some of the least equipped individuals to be covering important topics that affect people’s lives. And in TV news, performance abilities are reward more often than analytical ones.”

Ouch!

There are a number of buzz words in this treaty. Among the concepts – Horizontal Knowledge. There are a several pargraphs supporting the notion advanced communications capabilities take advantage of what Big Media has always done. In contrast, the fact all of the devices working from independent sources, although they may not know or depend on each others are loosely coordinated by a mutual interest.

This “Horizontal Knowledge” is also fueled by the argument that in the not so distant past, most knowledge was left on the shelf. Now that we have a viral connection to most of the knowledge available on this planet, Reynolds ask this of the reader.

Imagine it’s 1993. The web is just appearing. And imagine that you were to explain to people what they could expect by the summer of 2003 universal access to all information. All over the place for free. How will this be implemented? Thousands of librarains – who will make this stuff available for free?

He goes on further to suggest the skeptics never imagined people would coordinate themselves to do this on their own. This spread of horizontal knowledge is uncomortable to big organizations who depended on a more vertical path of power.

I mentioned CB radios earlier, because I grew up in the era of the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit – sometime around 1974. It’s here where Reynolds spices this book with a few ideas that some describe as liberal.

He argues the lowered speed limit was not specifically for safety, but for ‘politics and social engineering.’ Now where did you get that information? It’s news to me – maybe true – but it sounds too much like another book and a conspiracy theory all in one.

Nobody paid attention to 55. Sammy Hagar said it best (I can’t…you know the lyric). It was easy to break the law with these radios and eventually the limit was repealed. Reynolds does make a good point about how some refer the CB as a good example of a fad, but he suggests, CBs became radar dectotors. More importantly, he argues the CB set the stage for the Internet, cell phones, text messaging.

Now here’s something for the conservative web sites.

“The solution is clear – we need a massive government program to ensure that no American teenager goes without porn and video games!”
Glen Reynolds

These are the kind of statements the conservative reviewers will have a field day with, but in many ways, he’s right.

In the vein of ‘Everything Bad is Good For You’ by whomever, ‘Army of Davids’ suggest video games and virtual experiences are making us better. In particular, it’s improving issues among teenagers. Some would argue that video games are turning teens into foggy-eyed, chubby, lily-white geeks, but games are expanding the range of human experience.

From porn to the miltary, Reynolds states they’re good for us. Too much of anything is obsessive, but I agree with the author. There’s enough evidence cited by the real world and debunks the conservative argument video games lead to more violence and porn – actually the evidence from recent studies are quite contradictory.

For the miltary… “gamers know more nuts and bolts of warfare most journalists who cover the subject or most politicians who vote on miltary matters.”

Jumping into the molecular world of Nanotechnology, this book praises the small, small world of Nanotech.

Nanotechnology is named after the nanometer, a unit of measurement we’ll never see (a billionith of a meter) and refers to organisms and machines constructed at the atomic and molecular level. It’s a fantastic voyage into a future where specially designed molecules may enter your body and target specific cells.

Other forms of Nanotech include molecular sized machines who assist us in creating cheaper products. It’s a chapter right out of science fiction and some fear an attack of the machines or a over-satured organic world of ‘grey goo’ but nano-tech is amazing all the same. If it weren’t for the distrust of people, this would be a wild-west of possibilities, but what happens when terrorist discover this power as well?

I especially appreciate the potential nanotech could deliver to cure disease and help us live long.

A bit of new information was the studies that show the life span of people in 1875 and its division by age. A little over a hundred years ago, the lower class life expectency was 41. That number (thankfully) today is 74. In contrast the rich lived to 58 and today that is now 78. Shows money will buy you something, but not as much as it used to. Reynolds says, ‘this sets the 20th century apart – the increase of the life span for the lower classes.”

In Live Long and Prosper, a chapter on life expentancies, the author shares statistics that today, people over 100 represent the fastest growing segment of the population.’ He asks questions of why retire and if he and Kurzweil were in the same room, we would all be talking about eternity, but really, who could handle all the relatives!

The most intriguing discussions in this book relate to Space. Reynolds had several seats both political and commercial and he shares inspiring insights into the cosmos and exploration of space – stating it’s not just for governments anymore.

Life on Earth was a total waste, I don’t care if I’m lost in space, I’m on a rocket to nowhere. -Webb Wilder

Glen Reynolds was an adviser on the Space Council in 1991-1992 and now he believes, “The aerospace industry as a whole is in trouble.”

He cites several issues about NASA’s overweight bureacracy, the slow, dinosaur progress and several tragedies resulting from cutting costs and red-tape. He believes all we have now is a cozy, government supervised cartel and he recommends changes, specifically from the little guys.

He’s a little harsh in one comment stating, ” Nasa is primarily a trucking and hotel company pouring more of its resources into the Space Station and the Space Shuttle.” Instead, he believes Space Tourism and open competition in this area would be an accelerant for change.

Serving as a pro-bono legal advisor for the X-Prize Foundation, he helped to organize a prize much like the crossing of the Atlantic when Lindbergh won the $25,000 Orteig Prize.

The X-Prize foundation set up to reward $10 Million dollars to the first group to… “Privately finance, build and launch a spaceship, able to carry 3 people to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) and returns safely to Earth; amd repeats the launch with the same ship within 2 weeks.”

After 27 competitiors and several years Burt Rutan‘s SpaceShip One won the prize in October 24, 2004 and this event is just beginingg to stimulate venture captialists including Virgin’s Richard Branson.

There is a buffet of out-of-the-box thinking in this chapter guided by the heroic adage.

“We learn more by taking chances and failing than by playing it safe and learning nothing.”

Reynolds describes an elevator to space. I’ve heard about it and laughed of the possibility, but evidently, there is something referred to as ‘geosynchronis orbit’ (hang on) which is a place where it takes a satellite 24 hours to circle the Earth. That spot remains exactly on the equator and would be a great place for a cable as the author describes.

The interesting point is the potential. Getting into space is the problem and it’s costly and risky. What if we could press a button (though it would be 65 miles up) and use motors instead of rockets. If you could, you could build things cheaply – instead of “expensively and badly.”

Humanity won’t survive the next thousand years unless we colonize space.- Stephen Hawking

Anthropocentrism is the belief that all things in the universe are to be judged in their relationship to man.

From this perspective, Reynolds discusses his obvious passion for space exploration, including how to get there, various methods for doing so and the development of new treaties – even a new constitution for space citing “Democracy in America and elsewhere in wester civilization needs a shot in the arm.”

Another interesting solution to space travel is nuclear space propulsion, using nuclear explosions to form high speed exhaust rather than chemical explosions. There’s an interesting discussion of revisiting this practice beyound the various treaties regarding weapons of mass destruction.

Reynolds introduces several thought-provoking considerations as our curiosity and ultimate destiny transcends our own planet and ultimately, he considers the argument that competion between both countries and companies will be required to accelerate the pace and possibiliies that confront our emerging futures.

Ray Kurzweil is a leading futurist with a book on the market titled “The Singularity is Near.” This term originally coined by Vernor Vinge refers to a time in the near future where technological change will change so fast, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.

Similar to the The Turing Tests estimated sometime around 2029, futurists believe we will enter an era where the intelligence of the technology we create will exeed the capabilities of the creative species. What could come next may promise a bounty of evolution or other dire consequences (I always said technology has its own agenda). For me, I’ll continue to believe in the greater good and this event will trigger an evolution of our own race.

This book contributes a lot of intriguing ideas about the future and Reynolds proposes that “Creating knowledge requires passion, so one piece of advice would be to follow your passion. But there is an urgent need in our country to attract more young people to science and engineering. We need to make these topics cool and compelling.”

The final chapters in this book look into a positive future where people empowered by blogs, multi-media, home-based manufacturing accelerate with long term promises of molecular manufacturing and related technologies to change how we work and how we spend our time. The author believes most people are going to wind up working for themselves in small businesses and recommends it’s time to look at revamping insurance, health and retirement benefits and tax codes for small business.

A celebrity pundant, Reynolds encourages people to express themselves more. Mass democracy is a thing of the past. He says it’s the only kind of democracy we’ve ever been able to make work, however technology is creating its own system of connected citizens. These far-reaching upheavals in demoracy will overturn the pyramid power of old-school politics with a king at the top. This new age will be an era of “horizontal politics” empowering the individual.

One of the final references in this book is a quote from Wired published by former editor, Kevin Kelly at the 10 year anniversary of the Internet. Titled, “We Are The Web” – this business manefesto evidently impressed this author too – enough to find a way into this book celebrating our acheivements and the fact an ‘Army of Davids’ accomplished what the Goliaths could never imagine.

We are embarking on the result of science fiction, the singularity and pass of our discoveries are mind numbing. This future shock has been electrifying for more than a decade and although it’s exciting, it’s scary too, because not all changes are positive.

Like Reynolds, my view of humanity is a good one rather than bad and these new ideas empowering our collective experience are positive and I’m on my tip-toes looking at the stage. Besides I’m already a David.