Wednesday, July 05, 2006

First in Class: (How) Do Americans Think About It?

I started this blog to explore creativity and silos -- how conversations stop when language changes, how language-related expectations define status, and how such issues divide groups who could learn from each other. The idea is to explore the connections among silos, show boundaries that we think of as inpenetrable to be transparent.

If it's a commonplace to say that no idea is entirely new, then it stands to reason that the more we can learn from each other, the less frequently we have to reinvent the wheel.

What Exactly is a Class Act?

Going back to a post from a week ago, I've been considering the issue of class in America when it comes to analyzing data and theorizing about trends.

Notes from a Barbecue

On July Fourth, I raised the question of Jay Goldberg and his friend Howard Globus as we gathered at the house of David Spector (one of Wall Street's earliest Internet innovators and entrepreneurs) and Michelle Smith (ex-software developer, currently social worker-in-training).

Howard (whose last name I don't know) suggested that money and education will change your class in the right combination, but it's really civility that sets the classes apart. After all, we consider well brought-up children to be those who shake hands, send thank you notes, open doors for others (particularly boys for girls or for those in need of help), and so on. Those who lose with dignity are said to "show a lot of class." So is class determined primarily through one's code of manners?

But Then, What of Background?

In England, if you are Jews, a people of color, or anyone else that could be seen as "unEnglish" is considered outside the class system entirely. And in the US, such people would probably never be admitted to the Daughters of the American Revolution or exclusive clubs. Where does all this fall into the mix?

Another Idea

Jay Goldberg offered a compelling point to this argument. In the US, we're inventing ourselves at every minute in a way that is not possible in countries with longer histories. Class is part of this. Jay suggests that class comprises the expectations that others have of one and how one sets those up. In other words, if you can fit in through manner, dress, education, background or whatever conventions constitute that class, you become part of it.

This, of course, doesn't solve the problem of acknowledging the specifics of class in American trend projection. We're more like a group of countries than one nation, and geography needs some discussion in terms of identity as well.

And what of the Digital Divide?

Mario Gastaldi wrote to me with an interesting point. It sounds obvious, but it's worth saying: although technology can be a great leveler, it's also tremendously divisive in terms of opportunity. The Digital Divide in schools is a big issue, but we rarely discuss it in terms of business. How can it be factored into conversations about American trends by people like Linda Stone? She's brilliant, no question, but there's still more to be said.

This, of course, only begins a conversation. All further thoughts are welcome -- and appreciated.

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