The Economist editor predicts the future of new media.
Question: How is technology redefining the global economy?
Micklethwait: Ttechnology can also be used to snoop on you, to tell say where you are going, to collect your records, to side even, I mean… you know, difficult things that technology on all this stuff, again, going back to some of the original arguments to do with cloning, to do with you knowing individual things about which genes you have and how you act upon them and that’s going to be both liberating and also in some cases, possibly frightening in even in a sort of Machiavellian way can be frightening. So all that’s going to go on, I mean, on the whole, technology poses problems but there is never a bigger problem… you know, the worst thing is always to try to pose it. You know, on the whole, technology should be left to push ahead. In terms of the stuff that I’m excited about at the moment, I mean, one particular thing which applies to our industry if you want to look at the newspapers and magazines and forgive me for the selfish aspect to it, is I think the whole aspect of about how people will be reading and looking at newspapers and magazines in the future, I think, is very interesting you have to [sort of let it kindle,] what exactly the difference that would make and technology has a way of coming along in either solving problems or complicating them in a dramatic way and that there are huge things to healthcare as well as [going on], it’s fascinating, but it’s much better with technology just to accept its coming even if you’re personally, somewhat technologically inept like I am, this stuff eventually comes through and changes the world.
Question: Do you foresee digital readers replacing print entirely?
Micklethwait: I think there is an element, you know, there’s definitely an element of newspapers that suffered a lot just from the straightforward internet, I mean, from people with computers, people want to get information quickly, they’re much more likely to get it by quickly logging on and… in most cases, not even having to log on, it just appears in front of them. Magazines, so far, have been immune to that, [restfully] immune to that because people read magazines sitting back, they’re more… they’re relaxed and the question is whether the next generation of PDAs and things like that will be good enough to replicate that experience, will we end up having a sort of version of a kindle or savvy reader which is sort of foldable or, you know, could fit in your pocket, I don’t know. But those I think is a good example of how technology could come… one technology comes along, disrupts an industry and another technology comes along and perhaps changes it for the better.
Question: Are we finally breaking down barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration?
Micklethwait: I guess, that’s true. You can have… we have a long special report coming out on The Economist, all about healthcare and technology where you… in a few years… and it features one gentleman whose name I can’t remember but I think he’s now 90. And 40 years ago, he was talking about the way in which technology should completely transform healthcare and where we’re going to, you’re going to see your doctor, most doctors still write your information on a piece of paper, each time you go to a new doctor, you have to re-enter the whole thing, patient power is going to grow, there… there should be a pretty dramatic change, I think, in terms of, you know, when people have illnesses, they’re beginning already to go to particular websites and picking up particular information whether you’re using science and [people bringing to marked] doctors, how good they are on this and how good they are on that. And I think beyond that, there’s this simple element of just having a lot of information about you out there which causes some degree of privacy concerns, on the other hand, makes life gigantically easier, if you… if everyone had a card on them which gave 95% of all their available medical information, that would actually make a dramatic difference in anything, like accidents and all that other stuff. Because of all the tests people now have to run pretty routinely, you wouldn’t need and also on top of that, you’re going to get all the cross disciplinary stuff, look at the research into cancer, a lot of the stuff to do with the cancer, the new thing that they’re looking at cancer involved stem cells. Actually, what is interesting is the big possibly, big breakthrough in cancer came, not from people who are spending their entire time studying cancer, but actually from people who are looking something slightly different. So I think this cross disciplinary aspect of people suddenly being out to jump from bit to bit, I think, is very interesting and a particular thing which worries me a bit is the degree of specialization we increasingly have in the world. And if people… people particularly in the academic side, people tend to focus on the narrower thing, you know, it’s no longer… you’re no longer an English Literature Professor, you are Jane Austen’s latest 2 novels, because that’s what you specialize in. And some of that breadth… there’s an interesting contradiction to my mind at least, looking for the answer between… the broadness is often where the bigger ideas are to be found and yet the narrow specialization and I’ll get back to Adam Smith, people are being forced to go into and it’s a tension between those 2 things which I think is fascinating.