An Army of Davids

Glenn Reynolds

An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths’ is a2006 book by Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee also known as the blogger ‘Instapundit’.

The book looks at modern American society through the lens of individuals versus social institutions, and Reynolds concludes that technological change has allowed more freedom of action for people in contrast to the ‘big’ establishment organizations that used to function as gatekeepers. Thus, he argues that the balance of power between individuals and institutions is ‘flatting out,’ which involves numerous decentralized networks rising up. Reynolds divides the book into two distinct sections. The first focuses on trends currently taking place. The latter describes upcoming trends.

He begins by recalling the process brewing his own beer earlier in his life. His grandfather had engaged in home-brewing as a bootlegger during Prohibition, and Reynolds began to do likewise because he considered ordinary commercial beer inoffensive and unsatisfying. He writes that ‘the point is that I was making something for myself, to suit me.’ He suggests that home-brewing resulted in increased competition, and commercial beer therefore improved. Reynolds then recounts making indie music in the mid-1990s; one of his albums held the number one spot on music website ‘MP3.com’ for several weeks. When he started a small indie record company with his brother, he says, it ‘didn’t make us rich, but… [i]t made us happy.’ Reynolds describes setting up his own blog as ‘Instapundit’ in the summer of 2001. He expresses his surprise at its growing popularity over the next several years, and points out that he receives more reader e-mail about the blog per day then the ‘Rocky Mountain News’ does per week. Reynolds explains that ‘people were unhappy with the mass-market journalistic product and wanted to try making something of their own.’

Reynolds sets up his thesis of ‘the triumph of personal technology over mass technology,’ as exemplified by those trends. Using the Biblical metaphor of David verses Goliath, he maintains that over the past three centuries social organizations—from governments to businesses and beyond—had to be ‘Big’ (‘Goliath’) to survive. Yet the past realities of economies of scale and economies of scope, Reynolds writes, have changed in the information age so that now small organizations and individuals (‘David’) can compete on a level playing field. He argues that for most of human history, from prehistory to the Industrial Revolution, social organizations tended to be spontaneous and fickle, with no technology that a caveman ‘couldn’t figure out in a few minutes.’ Big conceptual ideas such as the Pyramids, he writes, could only be realized with great cost and upheaval. He states that the Industrial Revolution created a paradigm of ‘big organizations doing big things,’ using innovations such as labor specialization, that lasted until the end of the 1900s.

Reynolds quotes William Gibson’s famous remark, ‘The future has arrived, it’s just not evenly distributed.’ He refers to Moore’s Law about ever-increasing computing power, and he writes that the ‘minimum efficient scale of production’ has changed. Thus, some people and small groups with access to new technology can produce at the same level as big groups and possibly achieve better results. Reynolds titles a chapter ‘Small Is the New Big.’ He discusses the rise of ‘armchair workers’ (through companies such as eBay), doing work at home—as well as specialty-based cottage industries such as Coffin’s Shoes in Knoxville, TN. He argues that future trends will create a mosaic of co-existing big box retailers, local firms, and businesses run from home.

Reynolds writes, ‘where before journalists and pundits could bloviate at leisure, offering illogical analysis or citing ‘facts’ that were in fact false, now the Sunday morning op-eds have already been dissected on Saturday night, within hours of their appearing on newspapers’ websites.’ He states that the internet has redistributed access to information from professional journalists acting as media gatekeepers to millions of ordinary people in the blogosphere and elsewhere. He remarks, ‘many unknowns can do it better than the lords of the profession.’ He gives some tips on successful blogging as well.

He devotes a chapter to discussing what he views as a possible upcoming ‘singularity.’ He states that individuals will sometime soon ‘possess powers once thought available only to nation-states, super-heroes, or gods.’ He argues that human beings will gain new abilities through technology such as regenerative limbs and underwater breathing, and he views these as closely analogous to past types of body modification such as pacemakers and steroid treatments. Reynolds writes that people will become accustomed to such singularity-based changes in the same way drivers of fast moving cars become accustomed to their views off the road.

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