I let out a laugh when I saw last week’s Onion article, 8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place to Live. It seemed especially silly to me, as I’d just finished Elizabeth Currid’s, The Warhol Economy– a book that identifies the unique characteristics that have made NYC an international mecca of creative production. Despite the fact that the book raves about the benefits of NYC’s unique environment for artists and the career development of creatives, the Onion article got me questioning the future of this city.
Some of the key social and economic qualities that have made New York City so successful as a place for creative and cultural career development have been (and, I would guess, will continue to be) replaced by online social networks. “Every generation has its own neighborhood,” Zac Posen said of NYC to Currid during an interview mentioned in the book. I predict that for Generation Y, and perhaps increasingly for the generations following us, that neighborhood will not be Chelsea or the West Village. It will be online.
Here’s how social media and online networks match up to the key elements that secured NYC’s reputation as an international center for creative development:
1. Low economic barriers to entry in the community
Utilizing social media is catching on quick, and is a relatively cheap endeavour. The rise of New York City as an international hub of creativity also arose from low barriers to entry. Namely, the recession of the 1970s created cheap rents that allowed artists to focus more time and energy on their artwork instead of taking up second jobs to make ends meet. Artists bought up low-rent spaces in many of the same neighborhoods, resulting in communities of creatives with a little more time on their hands and getting a little more bang for their buck. All you needed then was a little bit of money (to afford rent), something to say, and the ability to relocate to New York. In order to enter an online community today, the barriers for entry are even lower. You don’t need to move to New York. You just need a little bit of money (to afford a computer) and that same something to say.
2. Production with no real regard for economic growth
There are more than 900,000 blog posts put up on the Internet every 24 hours. Why do we blog? The answers may be shockingly similar to those of “why do we make art?” Some people blog for emotional release or to create a connectedness with the world. Some people blog to make money, but a lot more people (including myself), blog to create symbolic capital. In other words, to gain or maintain regard as a professional in the field you’re writing about. (I utilize my human capital to discuss social capital on this blog to build my symbolic capital! Yes, these are the things your brain comes up with when you are in grad school…) In fact, according to Pew Internet and American Life Project, to make money is the least common reason why people blog. The main reason? Creative expression. Social media and online expression share the same emotional (and similar economic) fuel that drives NYC’s creative community.
3. Utilizing and building weak ties
In her book on NYC’s creative economy, Currid cites the work of Dr. Mark Granovetter who has published significant studies on the importance of “weak ties.” He found that the ties that were farther away from us (versus our close-knit friends) were most influential in creating success. People with the most weak ties are in the greatest position to “diffuse innovation.” While having social exchanges with random folks on the street in New York City does create weak ties, it’s much less hard to imagine how social media promotes these kinds of relationships. Also, social media makes it easier to track weak ties. One needs only to check their @replies on Twitter to get a good sense of the weak ties they’ve created. Social media is a large network of these weak ties. And more than that, they are more easily tracked and weak ties can more easily grow stronger through social networks than meeting someone on the street in NYC- a method that has worked for generations before.
4. The ease of peer review and access to gatekeepers
Listen to the story of any great artist in NYC and they will tell you the stain of people that they met that helped them get to the top. In NYC, there are places where ‘the cool kids’ hang out. There are places to see and be seen. It’s not a stretch to say that there are a hierarchy of sites upon which bloggers and social medialites aim to be mentioned or linked. My boyfriend’s startup sees a greater rise in visitors when it’s mentioned on Mashable than when it’s mentioned on a random blog. The higher the site is on the totem pole, the more likely your work is to be seen by gatekeepers- key people in your industry with the power to aid you in achieving success. This is the same way it works in posh nightclubs, bars, and museum events in NYC. The reason online interactions may have the upper-hand? They are remote.
5. More creative people leads to economic productivity
You don’t need to be in New York anymore to have access to the most influential gatekeepers, or to get attention for your cause or story. The game is changing. In New York City, the above factors created ideal conditions for the spread, sharing, and development of creatives. Similarly, on web, the above factors create ideal conditions for the spread and development of creatives– but also for non-creatives. In a sense, New York just got bigger. Now it’s the entire world. Or rather, anyone with a computer or access to the library.
Social media networks have other advantages that NYC (or any physical location) lacks. This may change our idea of location as ideas are spread freely with no regard to physical region. For instance, time plays a different role. You don’t have one chance to hand over your business card- as you might when running into an ideal client on the street that you may never see again. You can send a message (or respond to that message) at your leisure. This may lead to more strategic communications. Also, places with more people see more economic activity, and for that very fact, it is a good idea to know what’s happening online.
*These five points are based upon select points in Currid’s The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City. Check out the book to learn more about how they relate to NYC’s economy and social structure.
About the author
MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore