Out birding on a beautiful Easter Sunday, I got to ruminating as I was hunting (just hunting, not the killing), how we can design systems of prestige that don’t involve consuming stuff—and ruining the planet.
Competition, of course, conveys great prestige on individuals and teams on the basis of performance. Yep, you need the best equipment—bikes, binocs, wet suits, running shoes—but mostly, you get acclaim by being the best among your peers. And you don’t need to buy a new car to be a hotshot.
Reputation also conveys prestige. That 1% of the total population participating in Wikipedia has high prestige because that 1% is seen by the other 99% as the best creators and managers of content. In birding, the rare bird spotters have the highest prestige among all birders because they often “get” the unusual bird when others do not. Don’t need much consumption in this prestige system. In fact, some of the top birders have pretty average equipment—and quietly are proud of it.
Sharing, , I think, is emerging as another category of sustainable prestige and identity formation. Robin Chase, founder of ZipCar, spoke at my Parsons’ class recently about how sharing can build sustainable prestige systems. Music sharing, of course, is a great example. Creating and managing a deadly playlist to show your friends—and then sharing the songs— can establish you as hot, hot, hot in high school (maybe college too). Again, you don’t have to consume much in this prestige game, certainly not a car. You are also share your surplus mental ability when you work on Wikipedia or any other social media network that solves problems or creates content.
Sharing surplus is a big frontier in prestige systems—or economic systems in general. I wonder if we can build a new non-material hotel system based on the extra bedrooms people have in their apartments in Paris, London, New York, Rome, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Rio, etc. linked up by a ZipCar-like software system. A real sharing venture. And you can build your status by sharing out YOUR bedroom or sharing fancy bedrooms in other people’s apartments in great cities. And not building lots of hotel buildings.
Any other thoughts on designing sustainable prestige systems that don’t involve material things?
And I did get to see some great birds—Greater and Lesser Yellow Legs, Osprey, Dunlin, Snowy Egret, Eastern Phoebes and Oyster Catchers.
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