In the first of a series of "Dispatches From the Field," we will host a variety of articles from attendees to our first annual Writers Conference, In the Trenches with the Writer.
If you missed our conference, be sure to put next year's on your calendar: Saturday and Sunday, 06/04-05/2011.
And now, without further ado, here is our first dispatch: "The Middleman Age of Civilization," by RJ.
Driving home from EWW’s first-ever conference I had what, to me, was an insight about our share in where the world is trending (pun intended, sort of). Thinking about all the time and energy that had been devoted to agents and how to butter them up to get your slice of territory under the sun, it struck me: Of course, history has hit a new epoch. The last age of civilization was the industrial age. Now it’s the middleman age. I never was very satisfied with all those books and articles about “the post-industrial era.” So, it’s _post_, but what is it now?
Well, it came clear. What do brokers, agents, supervisors, managers all have in common? They are middlemen (and women). They operate between producers and customers. Only in third world countries is it still sometimes the case that farmers, cottage-industry producers and the like meet their customers and haggle, gossip, lunch together and deal face to face. And that is changing fast. Nowadays only the middleman has the semblance of that old style of doing business, and even then there are layers of middlemen. And it is true in all fields: farming and industry. In the arts it is the agents who are between the public and the performers. Symphony directors, painter’s schools, book editors, county farm agents… are the complement of engineers in manufacturing. They organize the work of producers to make the product more useful to the consumers.
But it is the middlemen, artistic agents, financial brokers, advertising agents, product salesmen, and the like, who make or break the producer of goods. You have to placate them, seduce them, accept the handsome awards they give themselves and take what they offer back, if you want your product to meet a market.
With mass production manufacturing, industrial farming and all I guess it is essential to have someone to bring your product to the attention of the customers who don’t even know what they are looking for until the middlemen inform them.
But with this new development there are new dangers too. Last night on 60 Minutes they reported on a technician on the oil rig who kept notifying his superiors that something was going wrong. He was directly in touch with it. But the decision was made by a “supervisor” from BP who wasn’t directly in touch with the real world of the drill. He said, “Keep going,” according to 60M. That is just like what happened with the Challenger Space Shuttle. The scientists and engineers said “It’s too cold, the rubber O-ring might harden and snap.” The supervisor said, “Keep going.” The shuttle exploded, the crew died. There are many more such stories out there. But what the heck, the world now has three times the number of people it can support. So we can risk a few now and then. The decision makers are never close to the ones that get it in the neck. It’s not their hides.
Just like every development in civilization has its benefits, so it has its problems. I think in the age of the middleman, there should be a law that the man or woman on the firing line gets to veto the middleman, who doesn’t know the scene in the trenches.