Mass Amateurization

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Definition

Mass Amateurization = refers to the process whereby the dichotomy between experts and amateurs is dissolving and creating a new category of professional amateurs, also called Pro-Ams.


Description

The Shift Away from Professionalization

Charles Leadbeater in We Think:


"The 20th century was shaped by the rise of professionals in most walks of life. From education, science and medicine, to banking, business and sports, formerly amateur activities became more organised, knowledge and procedures were codified and regulated. As professionalism grew, often with hierarchical organisations and formal systems for accrediting knowledge, so the term “such an amateur” came be to a form of derision. Pro-Ams are turning that on its head. Pro-Ams are knowledgeable, educated, committed and networked by new technology. They scramble up the categories that divide and rule our lives. They work at their leisure. They learn by playing. They relax by undertaking challenging tasks. They are unpaid and yet they set themselves very high standards for what they do. Pro Ams are motivated by values that we thought were near exhausted. They do what they do for the love of it: for the pleasure of taking part, to make a contribution, to win a reputation from their peers, for the thrill of the challenge. They are not in it for the money. Pro Ams yearn for more than a Jekyll and Hyde experience of being mere workers by day and them consumers by night. They want to be contributors. Traditional organisations with their hierarchy, bureaucracy and complicated sets of financial incentives cannot reach these simpler and more powerful motivations. Free-form organisations like Wikipedia and Linux are so threatening and perplexing because they are designed to tap into the Pro Am ethic. What they have done is find a way to transform what might have been individual, leisure activities into organised, mass activity." ((http://wethink.wikia.com/wiki/Chapter_7_part_2))

The Numbers

Charles Leadbeater in We Think:

"Getting a fix on the scale of Pro-Am activity is tricky not least because it is a hybrid category not recognised by standard research techniques. As a result estimates of Pro-Am activity rely on proxies such as volunteering. British figures suggest that club membership and community participation is holding up well, especially in volunteering, in contrast to the decline charted for the US by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone. Traditional forms of association have dwindled - membership of Women’s Institute for example fell from 442,000 in 1972, to 240,000 thirty years later. Yet new networks have risen: membership of environmental group rose over the same period from 750,000 to close to 6m. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey for 1998, about 21% of people were members of community groups and 26% were members of sports and cultural groups. About 23m adults a year undertake some form of volunteering, contributing close to 90m hours a week. Volunteering has almost doubled in the last decade. Among important volunteer Pro-Am organisations are: the Samaritans with 18,000 Pro-Am volunteer counsellors who devote 2.7m hours a year; the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service which 95,000 volunteers who deliver more than 9m meals on wheels a year; Neighbourhood Watch which covers 27% of households and Victim Support which has almost 15,000 volunteer Pro-Am counsellors. About 95% of criminal cases are dealt with the country’s 26,000 Pro-Am magistrates. The St John’s Ambulance is run by about 43,000 Pro-Ams and trains more than half a million people a year in first aid.

In science there are estimated to be at least 4,500 independent archaeologists, not counting the tens of thousands of men who go out with metal detectors at weekends. The Natural History Museum estimates that 100,000 amateurs are actively involved in nature conservation, through a myriad of specialist societies and clubs. More than 1m people are members of wildlife groups in the UK. The Family Record Centre in London estimates there are 387,000 active members of family history societies in the UK. The Demos Pro Am survey found that perhaps 58% of the British population engage in an amateur activity regularly and rate their skills as reasonably good. The “hard core” Pro-Am population is likely to be a subset of this. Combining our estimates with those of other surveys a reasonable stab is that between 15% and 25% of the population at anyone time are hard core Pro Ams.

Their number is only likely to grow. Pro-Am culture is being driven by a powerful set of social and demographic factors. By 2020, mean UK household income is projected to be more than £44,000, up from about £27,000 in 2002. More income means more spending on experiences and services, proportionately less on basics. Future generations are likely to be better educated. More than 50% of men over the age of 65 have no educational qualifications, compared with less than 10% of those under the age of 30. Those with more education are better equipped for the learning involved in Pro Am activities. The extended life span should give people longer, healthier lives allowing them more time for second and third careers, after their children have grown up. A woman born in 1850 would have had little time for herself. A woman born in 1950, whose eldest child reached 18 in the 1980s, might have 30 years of healthy life without direct child care responsibilities. By 2020 there will be 5m more people in the UK population over the age of 45, a prime group for many Pro-Am activities. A more open and socially fluid society means people want a sense of individual fulfilment and identity that comes from their hobbies they engage in. Greater insecurity at work means that people are increasingly likely to turn to these shadow careers in their 40’s and 50’s. Cheaper and high quality technology puts powerful tools, once the preserve of professionals, into the hands of amateurs." (http://wethink.wikia.com/wiki/Chapter_7_part_2)


Examples

The Rise of Amateur Media

"While music and film producers loudly drag illegal file sharers to court, company executives, government officials and industry lobbies are debating how to regulate the creation and distribution of digital content in an age in which distinctions between those who consume and those who create are disappearing. The rise of the amateur digital content producer - somebody who keeps a blog, mixes his own song or shoots his own video and makes it available online - is creating an almost audible buzz in an industry dominated by behemoths like Apple and Google. The amateurs, facilitated by the rapid diffusion of broadband Internet access, are innovating and setting the tone for the creation and distribution of digital content, whether music, films, television, radio, games, advertising or text. Established media companies that have already seen their business models emasculated by illegal file sharing are nervously watching the rise of the amateur content producers and distributors. These amateurs are changing the media landscape again and in some cases becoming the new entrepreneurs with the hot product that may make what is new today obsolete tomorrow." (http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/02/05/business/content06.php?rss)


Weblogs as a result of Mass Amateurization

Weblogs as a process of mass-amateurisation, not mass-professionalistion, at http://shirky.com/writings/weblogs_publishing.html

Clay Shirky: "But the vast majority of weblogs are amateur and will stay amateur, because a medium where someone can publish globally for no cost is ideal for those who do it for the love of the thing. Rather than spawning a million micro-publishing empires, weblogs are becoming a vast and diffuse cocktail party, where most address not "the masses" but a small circle of readers, usually friends and colleagues. This is mass amateurization, and it points to a world where participating in the conversation is its own reward."


Citizen Engineers

"Before, only the rich had access to tools and so only the rich were professionals, and the rest were amateurs," says Noah Glass, the co-founder of Odeo, which offers a free service for making, hosting, and distributing podcasts. "But now, as the creation tools have become easier to use and more freely distributed through open source, through the Internet, through awareness, more people have more access to more tools, so the whole amateur-professional dichotomy is dissolving." Citizen engineers are taking this even further, trying their hand not just in the digital world but in the physical world too. Much as eBay transformed distribution, they’re redefining design and manufacture. The infrastructure is there: Yahoo Groups make it easier for people to trade ideas and learn quickly; free or cheap computer-aided-design (CAD) programs allow users to cobble together blueprints; and inexpensive manufacturing in China allows the idea to go from file to factory. There are even websites like Alibaba.com that will help these small-timers find Chinese factories eager for their work." (http://www.fortune.com/fortune/technology/articles/0,15114,1061773,00.html?)


Discussion

Chris Anderson: Amateurs Beat Professionals

"No matter how much you love your job, you will eventually end up doing something that feels like work--something that you have to do because your boss asked you to or because the market requires it. At that point, your professional skills may be negated by your lack of authentic interest.

But amateurs are by definition volunteers. They choose to spend their time on what they do, and they go exactly where their passions, interests, knowledge and personality takes them--no further. If they lose interest they move on and are replaced by someone bursting with fresh energy. Self-selection ensures engagement.

To me that's the difference between amateur and professional content: the first may not be polished, but it's driven by the sort of intense interest that cannot be faked. The second may be better written, spelled more correctly and otherwise competently produced, but all too often it has the arms-length perspective of a drive-by.

This is one of the problems with professional journalism: journalists go where the story is, and every day brings a new story. Journalistic skills are portable, but deep domain skills are not. Meanwhile, the amateur lives one story, their own. They make lack journalistic skills, but if you're interested in their world, there's no better guide than a native. " (http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2008/09/a-passionate-am.html)


Key Books to Read

Book 1: Erik von Hippel. Democratizing Innovation. MIT Press, 2005

The classic on how users are increasingly innovating for themselves.


Book2: Henry William Chesbrough. Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology. Harvard Business School Press, 2003

Shows why corporate labs are increasingly inadequate, with case studies of companies having adopted open innovation processes.


More Information

Charles Leadbeater in We Think, has a section on the Pro-Am movement, at http://wethink.wikia.com/wiki/Chapter_7_part_2


Report by the Cato Institute: Amateur to Amateur

Report: The Pro-Am Economy

The Pro-Am report from Demos:

URL = http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/proameconomy

"From astronomy to activism, from surfing to saving lives, Pro-Ams - people pursuing amateur activities to professional standards - are an increasingly important part of our society and economy.

For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory, it involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices and frustrations.

The 20th century witnessed the rise of professionals in medicine, science, education, and politics. In one field after another, amateurs and their ramshackle organisations were driven out by people who knew what they were doing and had certificates to prove it. The Pro-Am Revolution argues this historic shift is reversing. We're witnessing the flowering of Pro-Am, bottom-up self-organisation and the crude, all or nothing, categories of professional or amateur will need to be rethought.

Based on in-depth interviews with a diverse range of Pro-Ams and containing new data about the extent of Pro-Am activity in the UK, this report proposes new policies to support and encourage valuable Pro-Am activity." (http://www.demos.co.uk/catalogue/proameconomy)