I engage, therefore my kids will (have a chance)!
I am not writing this article to discuss Ben’s talk — it is one of the most passionate TED talks I’ve seen in a while and makes very compelling arguments about the future of the performing arts as guiding forces for fostering empathy and providing a platform for social and emotional intelligence in the society!
Instead, I am writing this to try to distill some thoughts I’ve had in my mind ever since I started with the TEDChildren initiative and Ben’s words resonate clearly with me — for reasons I hope to explain by the end of this article.
We hear from many places that having more money — and consuming more — is not making people happier. Nic Marks, founder of the Centre for Well-Being at the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in London, gave an inspiring and very informative talk at 2010 TED Global, and Dan Gilbert, a psychologist and happiness expert, has been touting that money ≠ happiness for a long time, so I won’t discuss this here.
We also hear that people rejoice in participating in creative activities during their free time — something that often makes them a lot more happier than their well paid day job. Daniel Pink, career analyst, and contributing editor for Wired, wrote a book about this, while Clay Shirky, social media theorist, wants to tap into this pool of creative energy to change the world, so again, I have no need to add anything here.
However, knowing all this, while listening to Ben Cameron, something became very clear to me:
If in the money-driven economy of the post-World War II world, consumption provided the positive feedback loop that fueled the growth in wealth, in the new economy of the future, participation will be the new force behind further growth.
Except, this time, the growth will not be measured just in money anymore! Even more, while the consumption was limited to the developed countries until recently, participation will be truly a global force!
In an attention-driven economy, participation provides a perfect feedback loop that closes the circle with attention, in the same way that consumption did with money, and fuels the growth in the future.
To convince you, let’s take a look at what this means for happiness?! As you’ll probably agree, happiness is the ultimate goal for each human and is hard-wired in our emotional response to our environment, so any attempt to replace consumption must provide opportunity for increased happiness, right? I can’t agree more!
In the past we have tried to pursue happiness through acquiring wealth to enable people to buy the stuff they want. This had some success, as Nic Marks, Dan Gilbert and others have confirmed, but it has the unfortunate effect that the happiness level hits a plateau after a certain wealth level is acquired.
Beside the obvious moral and social advantages, this new paradigm for growth seems to be ingeniously resolving the plateau problem.
Unlike money, attention does not necessarily have to be limited to the wealthy! The feedback loop with participation sees to that.
The loop between money and consumption introduces an inverse benefit effect. By consuming, you support those with money to produce more, earn more, and ultimately control the market — and your happiness. The effect is therefore negative to those who consume, forcing them to work harder and harder to get more money and consume more.
If you’re not participating, you willingly give up mindshare and fail to influence.
But if you do participate, people will start paying attention to you, and:
Once you have attention you can do anything with it. You can influence, set the agenda, raise a call to action, start a meme, make or break a startup company — make money.
So what does this mean for me, you, or everyone else?
There’s the obvious impact that if you’re community-minded already, you’ll find increased support from the society and more and more people will join you in your efforts — it’s like being an atheist brought up in a traditional environment of churchgoers and hard believers in religion, who has found out that the community is transforming and religion is replaced with enlightened views, after the religious leaders from the past have died out! ;-)
There’s something more exciting than the community transformations — the world is increasingly becoming flat and the technology even for global participation has become a commodity! The entry price for becoming a consumer in the past was high, which is why only a select number of countries are labeled today as “developed”. The barrier for entry as a “participant” in the new economy of attention is rapidly becoming so low in all corners of the world, that the opportunities for attention and engagement, for those who decide to participate, are going to become virtually unlimited!
Allow me a quick digression for a personal story of this kind!
Last week, through Twitter, a young entrepreneur from Pakistan reached out to me and within 8 hrs from our first contact we were using Skype to discuss opportunities to engage around ideas like that of TEDChildren, other TEDx events that may connect our local communities and allow kids half-world apart to inspire each other, etc.
Even if further engagement takes a lot of time or even never happens, we already had immediate benefit by inspiring each other! — him with my courage (or stupidity ;-) to push forward the idea of TEDChildren, — me with his ability to quickly turn vision into reality by implementing and launching TEDxTube (I’m happy I got to make a micro-contribution by coming up with the name ;-), a video sharing platform built around YouTube, specifically built for sharing TEDx talks across the world without the additional non-TED related content on YouTube.
Finally, there’s something else too that I am super excited about … but I’ll take the advice of one of my friends and write about that in the next article instead of writing very long posts that no one has the patience to read until the end ;-)
Feel cheated? Don’t! Start participating right now and show your support for my TEDChildren idea by following @TEDChildren on Twitter, blog about the idea or any examples of children-driven changes you are aware of in your community, and try to generate enough buzz so we can get TED to officially endorse it and organize a special global conference, of the likes of TEDWomen, where kids and adults will join the discussion around change for better future by sporting a true partnership that crosses the generation gaps! To make this happen — and generate attention — we need to show participation, so let’s make some of the new “attention” currency being invested into our kids!!!