The power shift is twofold. Power is shifting from the center to the periphery, and from the top to the bottom.
This is the sort of thing we would expect to hear from the organizers of Burning Man or SxSW.
But this comes from Klaus Schwab, founder of Davos, the meeting of world leaders and the World Economic Forum each year in Switzerland.
Landler of the Times says Schwab has "managed to keep Davos a hot ticket for three decades by latching on to the latest political and business trends."
A claim like this gives a guy a certain credibility. Schwab found a way to create a trend (Davos) And then he found a way to make the trend ride the trends.
These are many and include,
- the celebrity activitist (Bono, Gabriel)
- ex-presidents as world leaders (Clinton, Carter, Clinton)
- the celebrity CEO (Gates, Jobs, endlessly etc.)
- the rise of the corporation as the defacto engine of international initiative
- the rise of the corporation as the defacto unit of international organization
- the precipitous decline of the United Nations
- the end of Cold War "simplicities" and the rise of a newly complicated political world
- the globalization of the corporation
- the globalization of the industry
- the globalization of senior management (Coke’s Goizueta was rare, Nissan’s Ghosn is not)
- the need for executives to network across corporations, industries and countries
Impressive, to be sure. But still we are struck. At the very moment that Schwab is helping wire capitalism for global light and sound, at the very moment he’s created a network to make elites more elite, he tells us that the fundamentals of power are changing.
Sure, this could be his mea culpa. But what if it isn’t? What if from those alpine heights, Schwab can see things that are not visible to the more mortal? This would be good news, certainly. Most of us think its probably a good thing that power is shifting outwards from the center and downwards from on-high. (At least, until it gets to us, and then, whoa, nelly.) But, really what proof do we have that power is diffusing? I am sure that Zogby and Yankelovitch data bases might be useful here. But we bloggers are left to our own resources.
One of the things we could do here is to press the new trend watching tools into service. Google Trends Lab allows us to compare search terms. Naturally, the entire enterprise is fraught with every kind of methodological objection. What are we measuring? Are we not always and necessarily comparing apples and oranges? I believe that the path to truth is probably paved with the results of many, imperfect, instruments. The patterns that emerge are so powerful that they can aggregate effortlessly upward. And this is everyone’s idea of a robust pattern.
I got out Google Trends Lab to see if I could find anything that supported Schwab’s argument. What I really wanted was something that would allow me to chart the decline of medical authority. For my money, this is one of the surest indicators of a shift in the nature of authority. When people begin to supplant or at least supplement the advise of an elite as elite as the medical community with the advice from vitamin and dream catcher salesman, and when they are putting their physical wellbeing at risk in the process, this is evidence that something quite extraordinary is up.
I could not find a way to capture this. For one thrilling second, I thought I could use Everett Koop as one term and Dr. Weil as the other. But Everett does not register. In any case, the trick here is to find a matched pair of this kind, the better to perform what a father of American anthropology, Fred Eggan, used to call a "controlled comparison." The good thing about Koop and Weil is that they share many similarities and one or two very big differences. Both are well respected doctors, with one standing for a relatively mainstream approach to medicine and the other a more alternative approach. I thought they both had advice-dispensing websites, but this is wrong. (Koop does not).
Then I began casting around for a matched pair from any domain or industry. I wondered if we could compare Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray. This works much better. Both are celebrities, both occupy the same cultural domain, both have TV shows, both are advice givers. Here at least we can see the terms crossing. This may be a question of relative celebrity. It may be a function of how much TV exposure the two receive or the attention being given their private lives. But there is a rough chance that Martha Stewart stands for the old model of authority (the expert gives advice from on high to a grateful and deferential recipient) and that Rachel Ray stands for a Schwabian model (less asymmetrical, less expert, less imperious and more collaborative).
Clearly, only lots of confirmation from many, diverse instruments would be required to proceed in trend watching of this kind. But when do we use the internet not just as a conduit of culture, but as an instrument of its study?
Landler, Mark. 2007. Reworkng the A List. The New York Times. January 24, 3007. here.
Edgescliffe-Johnson, Andrew. 2007. Virtual talking shop inflates Davos guests. Financial Times. January 25, 2007.