Economy of Presence
Nothing is more useful than water, but it will purchase scarce anything: scarce anything can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce value in use: but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it. - Adam Smith the Wealth of Nations 1776. Core to what Adam Smith's idea was the simple formula Scarcity = Value. We value what we have the least of. If you are wealthy you may covet time, if you are hungry you want bread, if you are isolated you covet belonging. Humans seem to want what they don't have. Whether they need it or not that's another discussion. William J. Mitchell of MIT talks about the Economy of Presence. He proposes that society today in the face of a multitude of hi tech ways of communicating it values face to face interaction far more than other ways of interaction. For example most e-mails appear to be about setting up face to face meetings, we pay more for the opportunity to hear a speaker in a conference than read their book. My personal experience of this is a recent breakfast I had with a luminary planner friend with multiple books that I know inside out but the value of the one hour conversation somehow added a significant depth to his books. Face to face 'presence' definitely has huge value far and above pretty much any other form of communication. This has wider and bigger implications. Belonging. Is the first on the list, with a society that is increasingly individual in mindset and isolated in reality opportunities to meet and connect face to face are very pertinent to a wide variety of products and services. For example; the web cam as a standard in the new Macs, YouTube, SkypeVideo, Nike Run London. Secondly. Economy of Presence has implications for how meeting places of all kinds take a new meaning. Anything that allows, encourages, adds value to face to face interaction should be fundamental to the design and architecture of the space. The Apple Store genius bar, lectures, Wagamama sharing tables, Starbucks, Selfridges food hall etc. Thirdly, from another angle a psychologist friend of mine recently argued that there is a lost art of telling stories. We are so dependent on visual and written media that we forgot the great art of telling a story and oratory skills.