The Comfort Class and the Experience Economy

The Experience Economy is nothing new — Microsoft was deploying the concept in its financial services marketing a few years ago and in 1999 B. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore published  “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage.” Commentators on Amazon compared it to other books such as Experiential Marketing and The Entertainment Economy. 

Such sociological slowpokes.

Back in 1965, Alvin Toffler, best know for “Future Shock,” wrote a book called “The Culture Consumers: Art and Affluence in America,” which noted that the booming American economy was capable of satisfying most consumers’ needs and had produced what he called the Comfort Class. People across the country were turning to visual arts and performance arts, as producers, consumers and sponsors. He noted that colleges and universities across the country were both bringing in top performers and putting on some of the world’s most challenging plays and musical productions with student groups, sometimes including highly respected professionals from outside the area as part of the production.

Unlike some critics of American culture, or its reputed lack of culture, Toffler traveled the country, visited university campuses, talked to professional and amateur performers and to impresarios competing with local university booking offices for both talent and audiences.

He also looked at what psychologists have to say about art, its role through the ages (lightly touched upon, but a useful reminder that art has only rarely been the sole province of the professional.) In other words, his reporting isn’t politically correct, New York City parochial or infused with psych babble. This is quality journalism at its best — inquisitive, imaginative in its effort and fact-based in its delivery.

“Art, not merely because it sometimes transmits the value of a past age, but because it has been a part of human society since the beginning, is an anodyne for rootlessness.”

Thomas Friedman Imagines What Leaked Chinese Diplomatic Cables Would Contain

The New York Times columnist is scathing about American politics in his imagining what the Chinese would be saying. He compares the fast train from Washington to New York — three hours — to the same distance traveled in China, 90 minutes. And unlike the US experience, in China mobilel phone calls wouldn’t drop 12 times during the trip. The Chinese note that cell phone quality is better in Zambia than in the U.S. 

One of his key points, put into the words of a Chinese cable, is that most Americans don’t realize how far behind they have fallen because so few of them travel outside the country. 

I have wondered how many Tea Party advocates have been outside the U.S.  They might seethe quality of life is high across Europe, that people have just as much personal freedom as Americans and more meaningful political freedom because politics is not so heavily dominated by money.

Republicans who label Obama a socialist display a weird time warp. Just what does socialism mean today — Sweden? This name calling is inane. 

“There is a willful self-destructiveness in the air here as if America has all the time and money in the world for petty politics,” writes Friedman. He speculates on how the Chinese would analyze this:

“They travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind. Which is why we at the embassy find it funny that Americans are now fighting over how “exceptional” they are. Once again, we are not making this up. On the front page of The Washington Post on Monday there was an article noting that Republicans Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are denouncing Obama for denying “American exceptionalism.” The Americans have replaced working to be exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t declare yourself “exceptional,” only others can bestow that adjective upon you.”

 Unfortunately, the petty politics don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

About Tom Groenfeldt

I write - mostly about finance and technology, sometimes about art, occasionally about politics and the intersection of politics and economics. My work appears on and and occasionally in The American Banker and Banking Technology in London.
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