Monday, March 05, 2007

Richard Florida and The Rise of the Robots

I haven't read the book either. Or more accurately, I haven't finished it. I would have, one day, if I hadn't lost it. That's right; the only library book I've ever lost was Richard Florida's "The Rise of the Creative Class".

I got about 1/3 of the way through before it disappeared. I think I'm not going to comment about it directly because of that. But I do want to make a general comment about the phenomenon incubating around it.

It doesn't bother me. As long as we don't use it to replace an old caste system with a hip new caste system -- California and Austin Uber Alles. As long as we don't create a system that rebrands maids as nannies and thinks it's progress.

So if I have a problem with the phenomenon it's the "class" part and not the "creative" part. Everyone should be creative, not just a class.

I wasn't far enough in to know if he's describing a class or prescribing/exalting that class. If the former, I don't have a problem at all. If the latter, it depends on how it's prescribed. There are very few people in this world that we can't learn something from so I'm ready to learn from any successes any group has had. But if it crosses over from "hey, great idea" to "why can't we be more like them? What's wrong with us? We suck!" or "STFU! The creative person's talking," then it's unhealthy.

car in Cooper Young, Memphis, summer 2006Why should everyone be creative? Because the robots are coming. We will automate more and more and more of our repetitious tasks. If you work in a job where the creative class tells you to get back to work, they've got the creative part covered, then it won't be long before the Terminator is making copies or loading planes where you used to stand.

Now is the time to be creative.

Later is the time to finish the book and see what I think.

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Blogger fearlessvk said...

well, you've read 1/3rd more of the book than i have! so i might not be in a position to respond anyway. but, cluelessness never stopped me from running my mouth in the past!

since it appears that i actually DO have the tastes of a 25 year old white male google employee (sigh - where have i gone wrong?) i would certainly agree that there are things to learn from those folks. my problem with florida, if i understand him correctly, is that his specific operationalization of the concept of "creativity" inevitably winds up skewing the scale such that web-savvy-hipster-types wind up counting for MORE than other kinds of "creatives" - thinking of memphis & new orleans in particular, then, i'd specifically say that musicians and cooks count for much too little in his scoring system. my real concern is that his preferred version of "creativity" is filtering through the culture such that we no longer even recognize other kinds of creativity. that would be a serious loss.

5:43 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

fearlessvk, I hadn't gotten to any kind of rating system when I lost the book (which I do intend on finishing). I'm most interested in why technology appears to be a favored form of creativity. Why shouldn't it be Tolerance, Talent and Tamborine Players?

From an economic development standpoint, it would make sense to prefer technologists to tamborine players, but creatively?

1:27 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Correction, I'm very interested in why technology is favored. I'm most interested to see his conception of the class of creatives.

1:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me 'splain it. The book, and the movement it is generating is not so much about arts and creativity as it is about ECONOMICS. And it's not about class in the rigid caste system sense but rather the typology of the whole demographic in a community.

First, let's agree that everything is Economics. All cities in the book are being looked at as people doing things, earning money then spending it. That is the foundation upon which everything else, including arts and entertainment is built.

Opportunities to spend excess income define the community economically. EXAMPLES (from me not the book): If you want union laborers, push for old school pro sports franchises and you are Pittsburg. If you want actuaries and car salesmen, get basketball and fern bars and you are Indianapolis. If you want immigrant minimum wage butchers on assembly line food processing next to a factory farm, do nothing at all and you are Wichita, Kansas.

I don't want to get lost in responding to both the original post and the blog of the commenter, but New Orleans is the perfect example of what Mr. Florida is trying to put forward. Why are Memphis and New Orleans near or at the bottom?

Katrina exposed it. New Orleans (just like its little sister Memphis) is a cool place for the arts, steeped in history, etc. Much of New Orleans' charm was driven by tourism and entertainment(chefs and musicians).

Katrina exposed the previously obscured fact that there was not much else going on there as far as economic success. When you get past the available fun stuff, New Orleans was little more than a third world style colonial occupation of an indigenous population of oppressed, poor, ignorant people by Europeans floating on top of a rigid class structure, and Memphis is about the same or worse.

Here come the other two T's. Technology. We are a service and information based economy. In modern society muscle jobs still go where muscle labor is cheapest. That's not here and we don't want it to be here. A viable ECONOMY which drives everything, including the icing on the cake, arts and entertainment, depends on participants with skillsets like sitting in front of a PC, just like everybody here is doing. Rather than cleaning houses in Central Gardens all day for $15 an hour or driving the only forklift in a building the size of two football fields for $17 an hour while everybody around you breaks their backs at $8. Those people don't spend money on things like the bistros, bookstores and sushi bars we all like to frequent. They go to WalMart and they go to church.

Speaking of church. The third T is Tolerance. The kind of people who drive the economy that keeps chefs, poets, and guitar players working in a warm dry place are educated, and by extension, generally value tolerance. That is why the movement is skewed towards gays and other alternative lifestyles. The new earner doesn't want to be in a place run by Adrian Rodgers, and Marsha Blackburn, and a gay friendly environment is a good indicator of that. Oops, strike two for Memphis.

I hope this was helpful. Please do read the rest of the book everybody. It's not a struggle between the new technorati and the old artist, but an encouragement of these to band together to make the modern community better for everybody, and encourage upward movement through that community. Did I say ECONOMICS? Just making sure. I think from now on you can just call me Anonymous and attribute every comment by Anonymous to me, unless I specifically object to it in print.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gotta synopsize that with this. Memphis is loaded with artistic talent. LOADED. Neither is there a shortage of entrepreneurs who want to make a place for that, and hire a chef and staff to feed people good food while they watch and listen. Where we do have a shortage is in customers who can afford to participate in the process and support the artist and the chef. People who are not numb from commuting to a crap job, who have the time and the money to pursue the former. They are just as essential as the artist. Without them the artist, the chef, and the entrepreneur go out of business, get day jobs and join the numbed, commuting wage earner. These are the things that Richard Florida is trying to help you fix in his work.

11:46 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

I think I agree with what you're saying.

I'm wary of those in Memphis who move easily between "these are the kinds of jobs we want" to "these are the kinds of people we want" -- exalting a distinct and privileged class of pre-existing people rather than embracing shared vision of what is possible for all of us. Especially when the pre-existing people in Memphis aren't that -- yet.

If we gild Memphis with another favored class, albeit more benign, we'll end up with hip green zones that cover up an old world caste system as much as any New Orleans artist ever could.

12:35 AM  

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