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 The Novelty of Ideology
Last week we introduced an emerging framework on Value [See essay here]. It seems like in the modern world, our decisions are increasingly based on things like culture and ideology, with novelty as a driving force. Today we explore how we are moving toward a world with endless novelty and ideology… and how we think through it.
Hope you enjoy!
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Remember the fads that defined our childhood? Gameboy, Beanie Babies, Pokemon, Rubix Cubes, etc. By definition, fads come and go.
A fad or trend: is any form of collective behavior that develops within a culture, a generation or social group in which a group of people enthusiastically follow an impulse for a short period.
These days, the number of fads that are fighting for our mindshare has increased. There is always a new thing to buy and have an affiliation with / for (toys, clothing, tech, etc.).
Whether we actually need these things is beside the point, we feel pressure to want and buy these things. E.g. do you really need the new iPhone when a software upgrade to your current model probably gets you pretty close?
In our last essay, Value is in the Eye of the Beholder, we quickly mentioned that the Internet has led to the proliferation of everything. Technology and innovation has been marching us toward a world of endless novelty (new experiences, things, ideas, etc).
⌛ Scarcity to Abundance
Let's look at some periods through history.
🔥 Early nomads could only own what they could carry. Survival was the only mandate — finding food, water, shelter. There was no place for novelty — no time or energy to care about second-order things like hair color and other nuances.
🌱 Fast forward to the Agricultural Revolution. Now that we’d figured out how to survive more efficiently, we could stay in one place. Things like food, water and shelter were still top of mind, but we started to amass some physical belongings. And if you were in positions of power (like royalty), you probably had more resources to spend beyond food, water and shelter… you were the early adopters to novelty.
💡 Then in the Industrial Revolution, machines overtook manual labor, so we had more leisure time. This is when larger groups of people had more access to novelty — we had some discretionary income to spend on nice-to-have's beyond food, water and shelter. We see this period as the beginnings of “modern consumerism.”
🕸 In the Internet era, access to everything drastically increased — information, products through eCommerce, sub-cultures, literally anything. The Internet, stacking on top of previous technology and innovation, moved the world from scarcity to one of abundance.
At each stage, technology did two things:
Took what we considered to be “work” and did that work for us. This freed up our mindshare to allow us to care about different things
Lowered the cost to accessing novelty (new things).
The 1st point is more obvious, but the 2nd point is important because it solves an access problem at an increasingly individual level.
Various technologies led to widespread use of cars and planes, which allows us to travel more efficiently (lower cost) and access new experiences. If you told people 500 years ago that you can fly the distance from New York to Los Angeles in about 6 hours, they’d call it witchcraft.
The Internet and smartphones have reduced the cost to access (almost) anything to the click of a button. Access to novelty (new experiences, things, ideas, etc.) are so much closer to us than they’ve ever been.
When our basic needs are met, our mind wanders. Our minds now wander in a world of endless optionality.
All the above, visually, looks something like this:
🖼 Curating Ideology
In a world of endless novelty and options, how do we choose what to buy, consume, access, engage with, etc.? 🤯
It's called ideology (or culture).
This graphic was so good, we are going to feature it here again (originally seen on the essay Life After Lifestyle):
There are two curators of ideology: external curators and internal curators.
Brands today are not manufacturing products, they're manufacturing ideology. Take Nike for example, are you buying shoes or are you buying the potential to be like Lebron? Every shoe (barring some "tech") is the same — the supply chain is mostly the same inputs, materials, processes. So branding becomes important to distinguish one product from another.
Wearing Nike shoes is about more than shoes, it’s beyond utility. You are subscribing to an ideology, mindset and culture.
The individual, a.k.a. you, is constantly making choices around ideology. And everything can be an ideology in the modern world. Everything you buy, wear, eat etc. says something about you, whether you realize it or not. The Commodity category is (maybe) an exception; e.g. all gasoline is the same — although, we wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere out there, people align themselves to a certain brand of gas.
In a world where there is endless novelty, you, the individual, become the ultimate curator.
🎡 But external curators and internal curators reinforce each other — i.e. your decisions are influenced by brands trying to sell you something, and then your purchase decisions influence what brands make.
🎲 Endless Ideology
Post Pandemic, with our increasingly digital lives, the world of options for any vertical and product category has exploded. And not only has the variety across verticals increased, but within verticals, there’s a lot of turnover for the next version of that product. V1 becomes V2 and eventually becomes V100.
If products today are about ideology, this means we now also have endless options for ideology (i.e. infinite sub-cultures).
The novelty of ideologies has also increased!
On some level, ideology is about fitting in. And fitting in for humans has always mattered.
Thousands of years ago, there were only a few ways we cared to fit in… it was all about survival. Thousands of years later, there are infinite ways to fit in. It took thousands of years to evolve from caveman to Burning Man, but evolve we did.
Novelty drives us to find new ways to fit in. It is yet another form of human expression. We are social creatures. We like to associate. Modern technology like the Internet, Web3 and AI just make it infinitely easier to associate.
But… what does all this endless novelty and ideology lead to?
Option 1: Chaos, Overwhelming and Disorienting
Endless novelty and ideology pushes us to be hyper-unique. External curators / brands try harder to push us into more and more uniqueness. We become too unique and lose commonality because we have a preference for every little single thing in our lives. Our communities become smaller and smaller. The amount of choices we have to make just to be unique becomes overwhelming and disorienting.
Ironically, in a world where we are all hyper-unique, we fail to appreciate our hyper-uniqueness because we lose a comparison point rooted in commonality.
Option 2: Organized, Endless Discovery and Exploration
We find a way to organize around the combination of ideologies we choose to subscribe to. We appreciate where there are differences. We form like-minded communities that are smaller, but higher quality, more close knit (e.g. sub-cultures). These communities and sub-cultures are embedded in everything we do.
In this world, we strike the balance between having preferences for some things that are important but for other less important things, we are fine without endless novelty. We leave room for discovery / exploration and chase our curiosity.
Reality is usually somewhere in the middle these two extremes.
To move toward Option 2, there must be mechanisms in place that help us better curate, organize and coordinate — bringing order to the chaos.
In a world of endless novelty, ideologies and abundance… curation, organization and coordination become critical.
P.S. for those who see “curation, organization and coordination” and think Web3, you are catching on. IYKYK
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