Sociology of Gatekeepers


We’ve super-sized a generation by feeding them at FFHR’s (Fast Food Hamburger Restaurants).  We’ve told them that what they are eating is called a hamburger.  So, should we be surprised if they do not recognize ground sirloin on a sourdough bun as the same food-stuff?  Or, if they do recognize the genus (hamburger), should we be surprised that their tastes have evolved (or devolved) to a point where they will show a marked preference for MickyD’s over a classic “21 Burger?”

Tastes change and art evolves, but in the before-time, they had help and guidance from gatekeepers.

Since the advent of technology, there have always been significant monetary barriers to entry for almost every creative outlet.  You needed a printing press to make books, a recording studio to make music, a film studio to make films … you get the point.  You also needed craftspeople (Back then they were politically incorrectly referred to as craftsmen, but at that time all machines and boats and hurricanes were female — crazy times, they were!).  The organizations and businesses that could effectively field an infrastructure and efficient distribution channels became the gatekeepers of their respective domains.

In order to be efficient (and profitable) they needed to make as much money as possible.  The best way to do this was to sell lots of whatever they were making.  So, gatekeepers evolved rules (and bureaucracy) to filter out things that would not sell to the masses.  That was then.

If you remove the financial and technological barriers to entry (and personal computers and the Internet do) you effectively remove the role of gatekeeper.

Not to worry, you say: Brands and branding do the same job. No, they don’t.  Brands may represent what is supposed to be good, but brands are not gatekeepers.  What’s the difference?  Well, gatekeepers keep gates and prevent lots of bad ideas from being realized.  Brands simply apply labels to stuff that fits into a brand strategy which does nothing to limit the amount of worthless creative that clogs up our world. 

You may think (and you’d be right) that there is no such thing as worthless creative.  After all, if someone has taken the time to create something, shouldn’t we give it the respect it deserves?  Personally, I think you know worthless crap when you encounter it, but this isn’t about what I think … it’s about what you think.  Yes, you: the people who live in a new world without gatekeepers.

You will have to filter all of this stuff yourself.  You will have to trust your own taste.  You will have to be your own program director.  You could crawl into the cocoon of a trusted brand — but then where would you get new stuff that’s truly leading edge? 

Are we sociologically ready to keep our own creative gates?  And, more importantly, what are the social implications of a world without gatekeepers telling you how to think and what you should feel?  Not only is this sociologically unprecedented, it is wonderful fun to think about. Shelly Palmer

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit


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