The New Cultural Communities

Stewart Mader links to an interview of Professor Richard Florida at Newsweek about the increasing link between place and psychology.

Florida points out that industries in large cities have become far more specialized:

New York is great in fashion design and investment banking. San Francisco’s great in software. L.A.’s great in entertainment technology. And Nashville is the epicenter of music production. So if you want to pursue a given career, it’s not just that you can make it in any big city, because now there is a smaller number of big cities that will be the key places for you.

He goes on to emphasize the influence that an individual’s choice of a place to live will have on his or her opportunities in life:

But many of these people give little thought to the fact that where they live will have an effect on so many facets of their lives—from their ability to find a mate to their access to certain careers. You need to be smart about place to actually have the life that you want to have.

I think that we’re in the middle of a large global reorganization. For a very long time predating mass communications, local cultures were highly individualized and often cut off from one another. People’s values and customs were a product of their culture, of their specific geographical location, of their ethnicity.

With the mass media, rapid travel, and global economy that developed in the 20th Century, local cultures broke down in some ways as the boundaries were no longer defined by geography or ethnicity. People were exposed to new ideas, and new cultures of like-minded people grew up as a new layer above (or below?) the geographic centers. You saw the emergence of cultures that exist both as a subset of any given local culture, and as a global culture with mirror images that sprung up across the world. As examples, I mean things like youth cultures (punk, goth, rave, etc.) as well as tech/geek cultures, and as more people become connected online, more and more niche cultures arise with both local presences within geographic communities, and global bonds via the Internet. These are cultures based on ideas and outlooks, rather than upbringing, and increasingly, people are finding cultures that fit their personalities, joining those communities, and ignoring or rejecting the traditional cultures that they were brought up with.

But the really interesting part is how ease of travel means that more and more people with a strong foundation in one of these new cultures are banding together in geographical locations. You can see this especially in the Bay Area, home of not only tech culture, but also progressive politics and a certain artistic aesthetic. It seems that so few people here are native, most having moved here to join one of these cultures, and the ones that are native are just as fully immersed. The natives who don’t identify with the new culture of the Bay Area are barely present — maybe they’re leaving the area, or perhaps they’re just drowned out. You can see this in many other cities too, like Berlin’s young bohemian party culture, LA’s entertainment industry, DC’s political machinery, etc. Affluent people are both flocking to these cities, and flocking away from them, depending on their affinity for the new cultures that have arisen within them. Many young people who are raised within the metropolitan area of these cities either accept the values of their dominating cultures, or they leave for a city that fits their personality better.

What this all adds up to, IMO, is a mass reshuffling of the deck. Within time, the whole world — or at least the portion of it with the means to do so — may rearrange itself according to the personalities and preferences of its inhabitants. And then it seems like we’d be right back where we started, in a way, with cultural boundaries drawn by geography. On the one hand, we would still have the communication technology to provide exposure to other cultures, but on the other hand, as the access to this increases and people have to filter more and more of it, I wonder if people will choose to expose themselves to other cultures.

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