Just finished listening to a very good talk from Pop! Tech 2004 (yes I know I’m behind the times) by Douglas Rushkoff, entitled Renaissance Prospects. You get a nice hand drawn graphic to go with the talk as well...
His premise, that we are in a period of cultural change to rival that of the original renaissance, may not be particularly radical (it's the whole basis of the modern to post-modern shift really). But he’s an entertaining speaker, and makes many good points. And one I particularly liked was the distinction he drew between ‘economies’ and ‘ecologies’, as two different metaphors for thinking about how the world works.
With the dominant economy metaphor, everything boils down to individuals competing with each other for limited resources. And if that’s your (marketing) world view it becomes self perpetuating: life is a zero sum game, with winners and losers, so you better make sure you ‘win’ the economy battle (a metaphor within a metaphor, but it reinforces the problems with the ‘economy’ view point).
But far more pernicious is the way an economic metaphor for life can corrupt our social and moral outlook: we start to make all our choices with a ‘market’ headset, even when that is far from appropriate. The example he used was marriage (and there are many more), which becomes a ‘purchase’ with opportunity costs, both initially and on-going (what’s the cost-benefit analysis of having an affair for instance), rather than the loving, committed and self-sacrificing relationship it should be.
As an alternative metaphor, Doug suggests we can learn a lot from the ecologies of the natural world. With an ecology world view, you see yourself not as an individual against the world but as part of a community or network, working together to generate abundance: it is the antithesis of an economic perspective in other words…but does seem to bear at least a passing resemblance to our (online, web 2.0) world.
One questioner did point out that survival of the fittest also exists in the natural world, as do natural disasters, and general ‘bad’ stuff. But, as Doug responded, this is just a metaphor; a way to approach life with a more constructive perspective – the idea wasn’t that the lives we live had to mirror all aspects of a true ecology. And any way, enough studies have been done to suggest that an ecology more often than not self-manages to the positive benefit of all in it.
I guess it all boils down to whether you’re the kind of person who believes we can work together to make things better (ecology) or whether you subscribe to life being a dog fight over limited resources (economy). The sad irony is that we probably don’t trust each other enough to go with the former, even if we think it’s right, so are lumbered with the latter, however unhappy it may make us. So let’s have more ecology thinking, marketing and problem solving I say.
And what will this look like? It must be more than consumers working together, or consumers working with businesses (though that’s a good start). The challenge is for businesses (and other organisations) to work together to the benefit of both their mutual consumers (rather than to rip them off as ‘working together’ would once of meant) and themselves (hence abundance), whilst still competing with each other (which is what happens in the ecologies of nature – check it out next time you’re in the Amazon Basin).
Absolutely no idea how this works (or even if it makes sense!), though I’m sure someone far cleverer than me has/will right a book on it. And it’s probably far too lefty and idealistic for most anyway. But it would be nice!