Almost four years ago I wrote a small article entitled the “Birth of Cool” that was intended to speculate on possible uses for the then largely unsophisticated mobile space.
Every day you cross paths with hundreds of people as you go to work, run your errands, find entertainment and go about your life. Without noticing, all your electronic devices are listening for any cue on their digital surroundings. Armed with low-intensity transmission protocols they are capable of establishing instant communication with those in close proximity. Spread across the city, a vast array of hidden transmitters are continuously feeding the information-hungry mobile community. As you visit a gallery and admire a piece of art, a simple click will record your opinion about the moment.
Throughout the city you’ll exchange your opinion about all those places you’ve been to and things you’ve seen with every stranger that happens to be “listening”. At the same time you will have received a few dozen tokens representing what the invisible crowd you never met thought was their coolest experience.
At the time I was particularly interested in the massive adoption of mobile devices that had the capability of broadcasting location information, and while GPS were far from mainstream, there were other ways to convey location information. In an alternate present important locations around a city would be broadcasting low-intensity messages (bluetooth?) that would only be picked up by people in the proximity. Today there are many ways in which this vision has been realized: standard smart-phones are equipped either with GPS or the means to triangulate position based on radio or cell tower signals. The map interface is now a must on many mobile applications.
All technology aside the most interesting aspect about this milestone is that as a collective, we humans are leaving a digital breadcrumb that describes many aspects of our lives. Maps are no longer updated every few years, but in some cases a few times per month, revealing the incredibly sophisticated processes at play in the growth of a city. The same goes for an always increasing scope of human activity. Our culture is revealing itself onto the scars that we leave on the face of our planet, the virtual paths that we traverse while exploring the real world, the info-maps that layer useful statistics, the highly evolved versions of journals that nowadays include geocoded photographs, maps, and many other artifacts. Our culture is streaming itself in high definition and nobody is watching.
While culture is vast and any exercise to try to map it would be in vain, I hope that the methodic exploration of individual snippets of data that reveal single aspects of our culture will become a common task that won’t require a degree in Cultural Anthropology. Discovering patterns of culture that would otherwise be ignored may lead to further understanding of the people around us.
It’s hard to say where this journey will take me, but I have a few ideas on where to start. From some very basic interpretations of geodata that may be useful to global citizens and travellers to an attempt to map the culture of a micro-region to bring it to pair with other areas of the world that are over-represented. From understanding the cultural aspects that thrive in urban centres to identifying unique traditions that are mutually exclusive with large cities. These are all aspects of the same endeavour: using the digital breadcrumb to understand our global culture.
In the editorial of the second-anniversary issue of Monocle Magazine, Tyler Brûlé ventures what may be a new pattern of global culture:
In a world where everything is starting to look more alike rather than unique, each person or company is an outpost that challenges convention and points to a new way of marketing, selling and building community.
This assertion based on the experience of their many correspondents dispatched around the world may be a sign of the times: as we grow aware of the world around us and educate ourselves in the ways of other peoples and cultures, we can’t help but notice that things abroad are not too different from things around the corner.
In the midst of a global recession it’s easy to panic if we are all doing things in the same ways, buying the same products, asserting the same way of live. After all when the entire boat is going down, you don’t want to be where the majority of the crowd is (pardon the extreme analogy). Instead each one of us will look at doing things a little bit different, trying to use all those lessons on global culture to create a unique mix that will allow us to become unique actors in a complex stage where the rules are about to be rewritten.
From the variety of our lifestyles and chances we take on unique ventures and projects will be born the post-crisis generation. And if the global aristocracy (those who have the privilege of roaming the globe for one or another reason) has any saying there will be a renewed attention on good, long-term value over cheap, short-minded pragmatism.
So look around, figure out what is that unique opportunity that you can devote the next few months to and embrace it. Indeed, as Tyler suggests, this is going to be one Happy New World.
What if you could spend the next two years of your life travelling around the world, taking the time to really get to know each place you visit and nurture long lasting relationships with locals at each point? Which destinations would you choose, knowing that you want to cover as much world as possible but don’t want to feel in a race?
Mostly inspired by slow-travellers like soultravelers3, who have found the way to engage on an open ended trip around the world, taking time to settle in each community they visit and making it a way of life, I realized it was possible to engage on a similar experience by splitting the journey into one to two month long segments, each one of which would be done every year. So this year you devote your summer to a little village in Spain and the next year you immerse yourself into the calm serenity of the northern Italian alpine villages. Each year you complete another leg of this tour around the world…
The nature of such journey allows you to engage in meaningful discovery of the culture that makes each destination unique, and not just the landmarks that have made it famous. Every year you grow wiser as a global citizen, a contemporary Phileas Fogg. With each year you become more engaged with your community because you’ve learned of all the things that you took for granted and find new ways to give back throughout your journey, because you know what value you can add to each destination.
You grow more cosmopolitan as each destination thrives on your cosmopolitanism.
As we struggle to find ways to survive the current crisis and look at the leaders of the world to provide guidance, the latest Hub Culture 2009 Zeitgeist Ranking will come in handy as a tour of the cities that are better positioned to sustain an acceptable quality of life while providing plenty of opportunities to rebuild for the future. A zeitgeist reflecting the drama of our times:
its not really about the Obamas – its about the context of our changing expectations of government
Berliners become an enigma – povo at home, increasingly affluent abroad
Just ignore the noxious skyline as you watch the GDP growth rates, still hovering near 9%
- Los Angeles
LA’s fashion scene has stagnated, and the city’s hold on entertainment is slipping to diffusion by web 2.0
the principles of kaizen (continuous improvement) are shaping a really cool new Japanese ecovibe
The general attitude down under appears to be one of distant concern
- Saö Paulo
Here, ‘crunch’ is in the quinoa, not in the financial vocabulary
- Hong Kong
The city is rich enough to sit out the bust, and it can always rely on China’s neighboring Guangdong province to drive the local economy
- New York
Hunger breeds innovation, because people actually have to think, plot and scheme to make a difference, and are more likely to do it on a shoestring budget.
With large infrastructure projects on the horizon for the Olympics, nimble currency moves and a general stiff upper lip, the mantra now is survival and sobriety
China is one of the last places in the world still experiencing growth, and that means that the party is still in progress here on the Huangphu River
Clearly the November attacks had a large impact on the mood of the city, but they can’t dent the can-do spirit of average Mumbaikars
Private wealth and trading (two of the city’s biggest focuses) are giving ground to medical tourism, biotech and other homegrown industries taking root with support from the government
- Buenos Aires
international markets and visitors that provide an international feel to the city began to dry up
Dubai’s taste for showcases, whether luxury, architecture or design, make the remaining grand opportunities here very interesting
The current mood is about refocusing on priorities, living life more simply and thinking deep thoughts. Where better than Paris?
Canadian globe trotters are heading back home to Canada’s most influential business city as they check out of their stints abroad.
Looking ahead, the story of Istanbul is about youthful opportunity.
- México, D.F.
a young population works in Mexico City’s favour, creating optimism and opportunity for the future, generated by an increasingly well educated and global population.
the Danish way of life, from design to food, with a focus on streamlined simplicity, makes more sense than ever.
You can read President Obama’s inauguration speech at the Huffington Post, but here is one of my favourite passages:
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
…the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve, indeed.