Creative Destruction and Convergence

I just finished reading a funny and somewhat comforting book called “Slackonomics: Generation X in the Age of Creative Destruction” which talks about how the combination of globalization and technological innovation has created an ever-widening income gap encouraging average Americans to live beyond their means. How this has affected cultural trends and lifestyle choices, ie. what kind of work we choose to do, when we choose to marry and have children and what our attitudes are on friendship, happiness and personal fulfillment. Slackonomics makes the case that a generation of “slackers” surviving back to back dot-com and housing bubbles and facing economic instability are reshaping and challenging the driving forces.

Lisa Chamberlin, a contributor for the NYT,  gives the example of the Splasher as a perfect metaphor for creative destruction, a theory coined by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. The Splasher is an unidentified street artist that splashes graffiti and distributes manifestos that say things like: “The passion for destruction is a creative passion. We are all capable of manifesting our desires directly, free of representation and commodification. We will continue manifesting ours by euthanizing your bourgeois fad.” The author argues that the repeating cycle of graffiti that becomes respected street art that’s then destroyed by more graffiti illustrates the economic model of creative destruction in the sense that “recurring ‘Innovation’ propels the economy which exists in a state of constant tumult. ‘New Men’ or ‘Entrepreneurs’ operating within ‘New Firms’ drive innovation…Meanwhile, powerful elements of society resist major innovations, because they tend to wreak havoc on existing arrangements. As a result, ‘the history of capitalism is studded with violent bursts and catastrophes.’ It is no gentle process of adjustment but something ‘more like a series of explosions.’” (Thomas K. McCraw, Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction)


As far as creative destruction ShiftSpace can be a great example because it seeks to challenge the commodified space online. If you look at the web, instead of becoming the Utopian public square first envisioned by its pioneers the result has become more of a mall, with ads and click-ons and search pathways dictated by companies who create their own order of the space of the web.

Initially, one of the inspirations for ShiftSpace was the work of net artist Cristophe Bruno who made a poetry advertising campaign on Google’s AdWord. In his own description:

“I opened an account for $5 and began to buy some keywords. For each keyword you can write a little ad and, instead of the usual ad, I decided to write little “poems”, non-sensical or funny or a bit provocative. I began with the keyword “symptom”. The first ad I wrote was :

Words aren’t free anymore
bicornuate-bicervical uterus
one-eyed hemi-vagina

As soon as the campaign was launched, I was able to see the results. Every time somebody was looking for the word “symptom” in Google, they could see my ad in the top right corner of the page. My first satisfaction occured when somebody who had typed “hemorroid symptom” on Google arrived on my website, after having clicked on my ad. I decided to explore this new world and to launch several campaigns. Each of them was to be a targeted poetic happening of a new kind.”

After doing this for some time Christophe Bruno was eventually discovered by Google and stopped. But his web art and in a sense public protest really inspired ShiftSpace in the creation of their alternative space for the web.


One response to “Creative Destruction and Convergence

  1. ‘Poetic happening…’ I like that; as if our institutionalized convergence around targeted commodities suddenly slides sideways through a glass darkly and arrives at an absurd little house with a white picket fence and a cute little yard sitting at the edge of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. And there are garden gnomes.

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