Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Is Green a fad?

I have my thoughts roughly together for that article. I'd love to get some views & input - even if just to say that its starting to make some sense (or not). Here's the diagram that organises those thoughts:

The vertical dimension is about depth of change, the horizontal about potential longevity. I say potential because any development in culture can fail and hence fail to run its full course. But there is still a potential lifespan as opposed to the actual longevity.

The interesting thing is that all of the different types of change go through an initial phase when they are fashionable. Fashion picks up and plays with what is new in society. It is an index, as well as a creative free form. But there is no information about the depth of change and longevity in something turning into fashion. That is just a phase and type of attention at any level. If it doesnt get fashionable in some way it hasnt got critical mass. But beyond that it says very little.

Another thing is that all levels work through contagion; whether people copying the latest look or becoming a communist revolutionary culture is thought viruses all the way through. Everything starts somewhere as an idea and spreads. And in the early phases when most arent converted everything looks like a faddish phenomenon. Imagine Chrsitianity when it really did have roughly 12 followers. It would look pretty transient, one of thousands of little Judaic religious cults & fringes.

- a fad is pretty much devoid of content, it is pure fashionability an idea that spreads by imitation and dies out when it is no longer news, when the available population have adopted and moved on. Twitter might be a fad (and it might not).

- a phase is something strongly associated with NOW. It's the new new thing. Later it looks dated. This is where the official (clothing) fashion sits. Its mediated; the magazines tell us what's in this year, what everyone is getting into.
When it's new it is high fashion. And fashionable people show they are in the know. But next month it's in zara.

- a project is something usually with a countdown. the Y2K bug, the space race
We set ourselves a medium term objective, often it comes from a charismatic leader.
But eventually on some level it passes or disappoints. new Britain loses its shine.

- A generation is a cohort who adopts something and sticks with it
Once a hippy always to some extent a hippy, & when this is new it gets a lot of 'fashion' coverage
You also see this in academia, it usually takes a generation for a big new theory (the sort that leads to a new school or discipline) to get adopted

- A structural shift. Like the emancipation of women.
In the 1920s this was a movement ie the sufragettes
It was also indexically a fashion, for women dressing like men (eg coco Chanel)

- an enabling platform. Like the internet. Or the payment/credit card. Or the invention of the steam engine.
It becomes the basis of many new developments, social technological, commercial
It's a pandora's box (not always positive eg new types of weapon have had this sort of effect)
Again in the early phases it is pure fashion; the 'look at me I've got a laptop' stage

- civilisation; ie a complete alternative social system. The basis of a society or subset eg a religion.
These tend to go on until superceded. There is a view that green industry (solar panels, hydrogen cars etc) will do for china what the car/electronics did for Japan and that we'll return to a long period when China leads the world as a result. There is also a view that sustainability is an -ISM; like a political system or religion that wins converts.
I think we are also on the cusp of a fascination with China that reflects its rapid advancement (green or otherwise)

There is also a type of change which is not cultural but geological/climatic. Like the ice age. That is evolutionary time and i have no idea whether those sorts of shifts would be picked up by fashion - eg if fur coats were all the rage when the last profound cold snap hit northern europe in the middle ages(!) But its a possible view of whats driving all this too.

The point of all of this in some ways is to say that the fact green is fashionable now says very little about its longevity and depth as a phenomenon. Some of its features (including the scale) suggest it is a part of a much deeper bigger change. But we just dont know right now. Whichever curve it is on, it wont be 'news' in the same way in 3 years time, it will be more part of something that's become normal & moved onto an establishment phase (or not). Which is not to say there wont be news within sustainability/innovation (just as while the internet is old news, web 2.0 marked a new phase of enthusiasms).

It will look quite academic here because its so dry. In the writing I want to make it mostly about cultural examples.

The written draft will follow in next few days, but comments now will obviously be hugely helpful :J


john dodds said...

Shouldn't the pyramid be inverted (or the order reversed) - i.e. you work through the various shorter term phases in order to reach the pinnacle of civilisation?

Matthew Heath said...

A couple of questions
(1) If there is some connection between the 'layers' in the pyramid who is it and how are the ideas propagated. What are the characteristics of new thinking which leads to a dead end versus that which changes civilisation?
(2) Has new technology, 24/7 news etc inexorably speeded up the process of adoption? For example 'green' type concerns can be traced back 100s of years, but awareness has rocketed through media reporting. Does this not affect and shorten the lifecycles you discuss?
(John it's some time since our grad trainee days at JWT!)

Adrian said...

I like the framework and think you're on a good track here. It's a very subtle way of showing how ludicrous the question really is. Beneath your bottom layer, I'd add one more which is something like Natural Processes or whatever. Green fits here because it is about the alignment of business with the forces that sustain us. If we are to survive as a species green is a mandate not a t-shirt.

Tamara said...

Great model.

Where does a world view/paradigm shift fit into this it ie, the slow turning, that trickles and/or suddenly tips, sometimes fueled by an enabling platform, science or a crisis, into a fundamentally different way of understanding, seeing and being in the world. Think Newton was responsible for one of these once.

Something, a shift, that some would say we are edging towards in these changing times... So questioning the current mechanical/scientific and disconnected world view that has led us to mass industrial world but also world poverty, unhappy wealth and a dying planet. And moving towards an emergent and connected world view that is reconnecting people to people and the system of life that is our ecology, natural capital and spirituality (or simply non-material ways of valuing life).

Oh, sounds a bit heavy. But basically things are changing in peoples heads. We will see and understand the world in a very different way, and put value on things differently - like water or social value - because the system that got us here, and we are currently working with, is failing us. Maybe it will take 50 or 100 years to shift our view and move to dare I say it beyond capitalism into something far more exciting.

Think the world is changing tonight. I can't sleep for thunder storms...

John Grant said...

great comments, really helpful thanks

I'll post the draft article back up in the next day