The Value of Culture

A friend of mine sent me a link about the variety of dialects found in Pennsylvania, it’s a pretty cool read. The article basically argues that because of the number of dialects, 5 in total, Pennsylvania is one of the most interesting states in the US for linguists. It reminded me of whenever I first moved to the Netherlands. I made a few friends and they were always making fun of the Limburgians because Limburgese sounds really funny. It’s has a mixture of Dutch, German, Spanish, and other stuff, plus they say the Dutch words really funny. So I decided to play them a PIttsburghese song, they couldn’t understand a word in the song. They actually asked me if it was English.

Which brings me to my next point, the Netherlands, which is roughly half the size of PA, has 2 languages at least 5 dialects (Limburgese is on it’s way to being a third language). Sure the country has a lot more people 18 million vs. 12 million, but there’s a lot more diversity in their language than in PA. Which is pretty interesting – especially considering that they’ve kept this variety whenever they also know somewhere between 3-5 languages (Dutch, English, German, Spanish, French for example). One of the concerns of the Slate article about PA is that the folks that leave decide to lose their accents which isn’t the case in the Netherlands.

These are all part of the local culture and language is one of the best representations of a culture. The words that people use to describe things really influences the way they want to live. For example the Dutch word “Gezellig” (link explains how to say the word) doesn’t really have an English translation the closest being “warm and cozy” for a room, but can be used in many different contexts (most beyond my understanding of the application). This word kind of represents a goal of a gathering, house, or anything. I think it strongly influences who the Dutch are and who they want to be their friends. It’s embedded in their culture.

I’m currently reading a book called “People’s Platform” which has a huge emphasis on culture and the cultural enablers of the internet. The internet is both the best thing and worst thing that has ever happened to our culture. It’s fantastic because I can still find out about awesome bands from friends all over the world, but it’s also extremely isolating because of algorithms┬áthat shape how we find content from 3rd parties. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve heard people express the thoughts that people are the best at recommending a new band compared to Pandora.

We have the opportunity to expand our culture a little bit if we put forth the effort. However, that’s a lot of effort. It’s hard to find people you have things in common with on some platforms and it’s easier to just find the popular people and follow them. I’ve made the effort to keep Dutch connects on my twitter feed because I loved living there. I have intentionally followed many women because I want to see their opinions as well as a few minorities. However, for the most part they are fairly under represented. It’s tough, because you want things that interest you on your twitter feed and a lot of people are into very different things than I am.

Which begs the question, how do we ensure a robust culture in an environment where we and our algorithms are actively trying to homogenize the cultural goods we interact with? This isn’t an easy problem to answer especially since we like free goods on the internet. I stream Pandora for free (ads on my phone), I haven’t bought an actual song or album in years. I want to support bands, but I know so little goes to the actual band these days. For Twitch I support 2 people (kbmod and nipnops) because I know the money goes to them to help produce the content I love. However, even with all the people paying, it’s not enough to allow nipnops to live solely on this income.

I think that we should seriously consider a living wage for artists and entertainers. I believe there is a need to support content I don’t like because we need to make sure that people see it. If the Dutch don’t understand all aspects of Americans (they’d never heard of Pittsburghese) how can we ever hope to understand other cultures if we don’t help enable them to reach us?


What are your thoughts?

New Economy vs. Old Economy – where the future is going

Yesterday I posted an article about AirBnB focusing on how it’s upsetting entrenched businesses, neighbors, and has attracted the attention of the NYC AG. I had intended on having a much longer discussion but ended up going down the rabbit hole with that topic. I was influenced to do that article by an article in CS Monitor about the growing backlash against the sharing economy. That article did discuss AirBnB, Uber, and a few other sites. I suggest reading it.

While that article focused on the sharing economy, there’s quite a few other companies that are causing problems for entrenched businesses because of the way they’ve structured their businesses. One of the most prominent companies doing this is Tesla Motors. Tesla has upset a just about every single car dealer in the US. Why? Well, as an attempt to encourage growth of multiple types of car companies the US and many states forced a separation between car dealerships and the manufacturer of the cars. This has worked extremely well for car manufacturers because they are able to push cars to the dealers and the dealers can get them for a discounted price and then sell them to their customers. The US is pretty unique in this approach – it’s why there’s those megadealers all over the place. Tesla is more closely modeling their distribution network off of Toyota where they build a customer for life and build to order. Toyota in Japan is so flexible they can meet an order and have it delivered within a week. Tesla has decided to have “showrooms” where people can look at the car try it out, but they can’t buy it. They have to order it online. Car dealerships are pushing for legislation and suing Tesla over this. I believe that Tesla’s model will work for many consumers but not all. It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Another area that’s interesting is, which has turned watching your friend play a video game into the next big thing that ESPN already missed out on. For those unaware, Twitch allows people to stream themselves playing video games and interact with their viewers directly by reading chat and talking to the chat or typing back to the viewers. Through this, games like League of Legends, StarCraft, DOTA, Street Fighter, and first person shooters has turned into a $20 million dollar industry just for tournaments. It’s replacing how people watch “TV” and engage with the people that are watching. These tournaments are pulling 200,000 viewers on just about any given weekend with several thousand in person to watch the event. Each game type has their own celebrities, heroes and villains. It’s still early, but it is going to pull people away from cable and from watching ESPN. I would not be surprised if ESPN began to show some of these events. It might take a few more years, but it’s going to happen.

Finally, the other interesting area where the new economy is threatening the old economy is the Silk Road. The Silk Road was an online blackmarket that used Bit Coins as it’s only accepted currency. It was wildly successful before its owner was recently arrested with approximately $80 million in BitCoin or about 5% of the total currency in circulation. This is the cut that this person made, which means it’s likely that hundreds of millions of dollars flowed through the site selling drugs and other material. With it’s collapse this market is likely to follow a similar path as the music pirating industry. Effectively there will be more security, less people will know what the Silk Road’s replacement is (I heard about Silk Road about 6 months ago) and it might be more dangerous to use. From all reports Silk Road was relatively safe to buy drugs from as the drugs were simply mailed to the user and it cut out the distribution channel where a bulk of the violence occurs.

I think that these types of business models will likely continue to flourish, it’s likely that we’ll see a lot of new types of business models that build upon this. I’m interested in seeing what’s going to happen.