Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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Amateur Revolution

October 1st, 2004 · No Comments

[via Anish Sankhalia] Fast Company writes that “networks of amateurs are displacing the pros and spawning some of the greatest innovations.”

These far-flung developments have all been driven by Pro-Ams — committed, networked amateurs working to professional standards. Pro-Am workers, their networks and movements, will help reshape society in the next two decades.

The 20th century was marked by the rise of professionals in medicine, science, education, and politics. In one field after another, amateurs and their ramshackle organizations were driven out by people who knew what they were doing and had certificates to prove it. Now that historic shift seems to be reversing. Even as large corporations extend their reach, we’re witnessing the flowering of Pro-Am, bottom-up self-organization.

Rap, for one, started as do-it-yourself music among lower-income black men from distressed urban neighborhoods, recorded by artists on inexpensive equipment and distributed on handmade tapes by local labels. Yet within two decades, rap has become the dominant popular music across the world. In league with Pro-Am music distribution made possible by Napster and Kazaa, it has turned the entire record industry on its head.

Linux is the product of mass participatory innovation among thousands of Pro-Am technologists. Many of them program commercial software for a living but work on Linux in their spare time because the spirit of collaborative problem solving appeals so powerfully. Likewise, according to one estimate, 90% of the content in The Sims is created by a Pro-Am sector of The Sims ‘ playing community, a distributed, self-organizing group whose players are constantly training one another and innovating.

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