The downside of the internet

I was recently watching this documentary about break dancing and its evolution in the Bronx of New York. You may remember from previous posts that I was very much into the activity, before the main stream media and taste makers decided it was over. They pulled the albums from the shelves, stopped showing it on TV (I had 3 channels to chose from) and let it evaporate into history as a fad we can all look back on.

What you probably don’t know about break dancing is that it was around for about 10 years before it hit the mainstream. In fact, it was pretty much developed on a single housing block in the South Bronx. It didn’t move from this single location for the best part of a decade. The 3 tenants of Hip Hip: the break dancing, the Music (DJ’s & MC’s) and the aerosol art – all thrived and evolved in one physical space over a large number of years without any external influence or involvement. A small community lead by people like Kool Herc, Fab Five Freddy and Afrika Bambaataa added layers to their micro culture into a form of self bootstrapped art and entertainment. The period of development was iterative, local and very long before it blossomed into something amazing and beautiful. Hip Hop cultural was the veritable flower growing through a crack in the pavement. It didn’t appear in discotheques of Manhattan until it had fully developed. Only when this flower began to germinate and turn into an garden of undiscovered originality and urban culture – did any taste makers and marketers start to take notice. Only when it was fully developed could it turn into a global phenomenon where big dollars got made via the TV Industrial Complex.

I don’t think that this could happen today. The connected world just wouldn’t allow it. And while, I’m a technology evangelist, it’s true that all technology has some negative outcomes. The lack of isolation is one of these technology negatives. Certain things need the condition of isolation in order to develop to their true potential. To develop in a single environment without external influence. The exact kind of environment that Hip Hop culture both needed and thrived in. It’s why it was so pure and so real. It had to find its way with limited resources. The reason the 3 tenants of Hip Hop are what they are is because the founders were poor. They couldn’t afford instruments – so they used record players and microphones as an instruments. They used spray cans and train sides as their canvas. They took the only nutrients their environment of urban decay provided.

Today the entire connected world is looking for something interesting to blog about, to tweet about, to post on their youtube channel and start a tumblr page on. Anything that looks remotely interesting gets posted about, mashed up, promoted, storied, and presented to the world before it has even taken its own shape. The original community of anything different and interesting can’t own it and nurture it like they could pre-web. And I’m starting to think that we might be missing out on some of the cultural benefits which evolve from simple unadulterated time to develop. If the first blossom of a new species is picked, re-planted or re-purposed will we ever really see what that species might have turned into?

While we are urged to promote and share all that we do and find, maybe it is time to consider the opposite. To cocoon our idea in development until it has evolved into something worthy. The let the startup actually ‘start’, and find its place and take its own shape before others start to re-shape it on our behalf. Maybe it’s time for us to step back and let some things be, before we interrupt them.

The key to the success of all technology, is knowing when not to use it.


11 Comments The downside of the internet

  1. Theresa Saldanha

    Good thought, Steve.

    However, its not limited to just entertainment. It bothers me that when dealing with innovation, we continuously look for the next BIG thing, whilst neglecting the learning & iteration that comes from experimentation & evolution.

    For instance, in FMCG innovation in the grocery sector, 13 weeks is the length of time, typically, that new products need to prove themselves on shelves. It is also rare that companies are allowed (by the large retailers) to come back with an improved version, Is it any wonder that categories are stagnating ?

    Smart people & companies will learn the value of incubation, when not to trade mastery & development for ‘instant’, but fleeting, success/dollars. For FMCG, that coud potentially mean looking at numerous, smaller ‘experimental’ products, sold through independent channels, before scaling up for a mainstream launch ?

  2. Sam Sabey

    I think you are right Samma.

    I think of trees, they take years and years to grow roots, build on failure and become their form. They can last droughts and fire and still survive.

    We seem fixated on viral and weeds. A virus destroys its host to become a success, like a weed that grows quickly on an exploit. We like to kill both as they aren’t wanted, but in the current world it seems these are the new hot.

    Things like this upside down ness are what is wrongs with the world today.

    Sam, @samotage

  3. Steve Sammartino

    Exactly Theresa – 13 weeks to determine success of an FMCG product is absolute folly…. has nothing to do with innovation and is a large reason why supermarkets continue to focus on price…


  4. Steve Sammartino

    Love the analogy of the trees vs the weeds…. We seem to live in a weed economy…. So long as it grows fast it is validated…. who cares about the quality and sustainability of the concept business or eco-system. Makes me believe that we must again look closer to nature for the answers and concentrate more on bio mimicry.

    thanks for the thoughtful comment Sam.


  5. Break

    Interesting thoughts.

    Four elements, not three tenants.

    And breakdancing is one word.

    But you should know that, having “perfected” breakdancing!

  6. Gary Semanison

    Trends need time to develop in isolation, then when full, can dramatically “launch” in the big world. I’m in such a huge scheme now: getting out of worldwide “Babylon!” I did not realize it, but over 20 years ago I got onto this track after a stunning event to me… linked to and at time of a tragic event to THERESA SALDANHA (film actress in “Ragin Bull” etc). My new path began when I wrote a futurist chilling screenplay (“Elia”) for her (given to her agent Vic Per…) and then her tragedy occurred (and I prayed for recovery).

    This new thing brews strongly now in islation, but Theresa is invited to know more. (Maybe even grasp that the diabolical event Theresa suffered has ignited a counter wave that grows against all ungodly “Evil that Men Do” in reality!)

    So, Theresa Saldanha, please contact me: 8547 Bowness Rd NW, Calgary, Alberta, T3B 0H8, Canada. (Writing is most secure now. You can give no return address, just an email. You, of all people, need no fear of “stalkers” !!)
    I just came across this article while seeking your agent (I found nobody) if you still seek film work. (Do you?)

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