Monday, March 20, 2006

America and Europe, Part 2

Originally posted as a comment on BubbleGeneration.com





As you may recall, I recently took issue to what I perceived as a prejudiced post on Europe being more creative because of its social and cultural capital.

This post was full of the now traditional bashing of American culture as being homogenous and boring.

While I believe that I successfully refuted the arguments of that post, as I stated in my response, I agree that "social and cultural capital are the generators of innovation," which brings us to the follow-up.

This follow-on post on Bubble Generation is far more useful than the previous polemic because it takes a more balanced view and cuts to the heart of the "divide" between America and Europe. The post argues that each is focusing on an incomplete picture (financial capital vs. social capital), which results in an imperfect society.

In other words, the assumption is that valuing financial capital and social capital are mutually exclusive.

If that is the case, then there is a fundamental conflict, because Wal-Mart *is* more efficient than the corner shop, and because In-N-Out *is* better than the hole-in-the-wall (at least when it comes to delivering a consistently enjoyable experience at a low price). If our only choice is to accept either cultural homogeneity or poverty, I'll take the Double Double. Or the 100 by 100.

But I don't think we need to accept this state of affairs. I think we can achieve both financial as well as social and cultural growth.

The key is to apply the simple economics of competitive advantage. There are times when we can reap substantial economic gains with no negative impact on social or cultural capital (or even positive benefits). There are also times when we can reap substantial social and cultural gains with no negative impact on financial capital (or even positive benefits).

As one example, we can seek efficiency in the offline world, and seek distinctiveness in the online world.

In the online world, the costs of communication are so low that infinite diversity is not only possible, but darn near inevitable.

And with the rise of mass customization plays like Cafe Press (and someday, actual fabs that can create any sort of product using solid printing), we'll be able to have our cake and eat it too--efficiency and soul.

Just take a look at the success of Threadless (http://www.threadless.com/) and DeviantArt (http://www.deviantart.com/). These are the farthest thing from homogenized, yet they are just as much a product of the American Way as Wal-Mart.

I may be an early adopter, but I can say pretty definitively that I gain more social and cultural enjoyment out of the things I find online than by the things I encounter offline. Why let an accident of geography determine our options?

What would you rather do? Live in a quaint European village full of charming shops and restaurants but have no access or communications with the outside world? Or live in Orange County with broadband access to the Internet, Skype calls to anywhere on the globe, and the ability to order the world's treasures delivered to your doorstep by Amazon and UPS?

1 comment:

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