May 4, 2008


This week, I traded alot of emails with a great hacker in Barcelona, had a skype call with a CEO in London, and had lunch on Friday with a South African and a half British/half French guy (at a Filipino restaurant, natch).

I personally feel provincial, what with a simple NY pedigree. At betaworks we're trying to create a different seed stage business model (John wrote about this a little more here), at least a bit, and though we might be "obscure even among Web insiders," by nature of being located here in New York we tend (and are right now designed) to have more activities here. And though as part of our network we do cover San Francisco to New York to London, I can't help but wonder about the implications right now of having too much of a geographical focus.

For example, Fareed Zakaria writes that "the world has shifted from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism," to wit:

Look around. The world's tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn't make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world's ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.
Or, as Adam Gopnik put it last September:
Now, for the first time, it’s possible to imagine modernization as something independent of Americanization: when people in Paris talk about ambitious kids going to study abroad, they talk about London. (Americans have little idea of the damage done by the ordeal that a routine run through immigration at J.F.K. has become for Europeans, or by the suspicion and hostility that greet the most anodyne foreigners who come to study or teach at our scientific and educational institutions.) When people in Paris talk about manufacturing might, they talk about China; when they talk about tall buildings, they talk about Dubai; when they talk about troubling foreign takeovers, they talk about Gazprom. The Sarkozy-Gordon Brown-Merkel generation is not unsympathetic to America, but America is not so much the primary issue for them, as it was for Blair and Chirac, in the nineties, when America was powerful beyond words. To a new leadership class, it sometimes seems that America is no longer the human bomb you have to defuse but the nut you walk away from.
Then again, good business models are flexible, and are made to be molded and shaped and even broken and reassembled. We'll see how much of that is needed in a post-American era.


Dan Reich said...

Some great thoughts. But what does that Barcelona hacker, or CEO in London think of their "pedigree"? Do they likewise feel "provincial?"

Or do we all turn to technology and internet, with the understanding that is truely an international language? Making us all feel a bit less "provincial?"

Do I learn Mandarin and move to China? Do I learn the latest in Java and move into my parents basement?

Looking forward to see what Betaworks becomes or is becoming...