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.