Experience economy


Our society is constantly changing, in the old days we had to struggle for life in what we can call a ‘survival economy’. Nowadays, we don’t struggle anymore, we have entered another stage of history, another era: we can enjoy life in what is called the ‘experience economy’. A golden era: now we can experience life, we are amazed of the richness and wonders that life can offer us. Aren’t we lucky bastards?                    

Experience design

We are even more lucky than we think: a whole industry is producing experiences for us. A new breed of engineers has emerged, the imagineers.  They took up the challenge to design experiences for us. So if we are ready for the new era, they are ready to serve us. We don’t have to get tired here, like in the old days, in the old economy. We can just relax and enjoy what the imagineers have cooked for us.

Let the sun rise now and turn night into day (Forum shops  Las Vegas)

We can go to any mall and let it happen. We will be entertained like never before. Shops will be styled like amusing classic Roman or Oriental shops, there will be funny clowns and may be we can even meet our favorite comic book heroes. Loudspeakers play reassuring music and if needed, a soft voiceover will tell us when we are amazed, excited or even astounded.
And thinking of shopping: we won’t have to worry anymore about how to decide what to buy. The whole atmosphere in the mall will be relaxed and we will be in the right mood to decide. We won’t even notice that we do our deciding job. In the mall we are brought in such a mood that we decide without thinking, think of that!
Why cannot we have all that at home? Well, there is good news. The amusement industry has started to develop neighborhoods too. Friendly communities like in the old days, where everybody will be happy like grandfathers and grandmothers in soup commercials.   
Who can imagine that anybody would ever want something else?    
I think I can.
That we have discovered the experience is a good thing. What use would it be to work all our lives without ever being able to experience and enjoy the results of our labor!
Production is not the only important thing, as we thought in the survival economy. Consumption and production imply each other. Here lies a chance for a basic change. A challenge! How can we connect our wishes and needs for experiences with our abilities to produce goods and services?  
How can we establish a dialogue between consumption and production in which both sides take each other seriously?
But until now this challenge doesn’t seem to bother us very much. Experience has become important, but in what way? Do we really get a chance to experience? A chance to experience things our own way.
Imagine you are walking in a forest and someone pops up from behind a tree, and starts telling you what to experience. Wouldn’t you feel like well… getting rid of this person after a few minutes? If you don’t feel like it then, you will probably feel like it when you leave the forest and he charges you a fee. For helping you to experience the wood the best way you can.          
Experience needs something that philosopher Heidegger called ‘Seinlassen’. We need an attitude of ‘letting things be’, of receptiveness. Therefore we need to be left alone for a while. What we don’t need is someone who is telling us what to experience. That may look easy at first sight, but it doesn’t work. The experience will not be ours.
Theme park  
And it is even worse. When we walk in the forest, our companion not only tells us what to experience, he also has put several gadgets in the scenery, designed to amuse us. Plastic bears that grown at us from behind trees or realistic models of alligators that open and close their mouth in ponds. And if we take a close look at the trees they appear to be artificial too.
‘This is what you really want, this is especially designed for you, much better than reality’ proclaims our companion excited, and he continues:  ‘And we won’t stop here. We have great plans for the new millennium: we will change the whole wide world into an amusement park, all for your amusement’.  
But may-be we are not amused, and may be now we take a close look at him. And may be we find that he is a model too. He looks real, but have a good look, he must be a model. The imagineers have done a swell job. Now we can switch this fellow off without violating the law.
Then we flee from the park, hoping to find a part of the world without clowns and artificial scenery that is designed to amuse us.        

Let wonders begin – At your command (Forum shops  Las Vegas)


You hire the bike that has been stolen from you

If you let yourself persuade to be amused this way, you may end up feeling like a demented senior citizen on a bus trip… look left, look right, be amazed, be excited, be hungry, be sleepy… 
And when the bus trip is over, you may feel empty. And if it was a long bus trip, you may have forgotten how to bring your own experience to life, you may have forgotten how the real world looks like and you start looking for the next trip, the next set of experiences. 
But these experiences aren’t really yours. In the first place there is the prompter who tells you how to experience the world that is presented to you and secondly this presented world is a mock-up, designed to be better and to replace the real world.
You are experiencing an artificial world in an artificial way. Your abilities to have a real experience may vanish. What you get in return are artificial implants.
Or, to use another metaphor, the amusement industry has stolen your bike and rents it to you now.
Of course the amusement industry will say that they do it all for us. And that we don’t have to make use of their services. But at the same time they try to persuade us to do so, every moment of the day, in every corner of our environment. And when we are dizzy of their abusement, or ignorant, or just lazy, we will end up needing them and believing in them…

Zynisches Weitermachen

Can we really say then that we have arrived in an new era, in the era of the experience? The experience economy gives us a hard time when it comes to real experiences.
And then there is another thing: behind the scene of the experience economy, the good old survival economy still is there. Following its good old principles. Trying to maximize production and profit. Experience is their new product and it seems that this product can be pretty addictive. And what do you need more when you think of maximizing production and profit! So the old economy can go on for a while. A case of  ‘zynisches Weitermachen’, in the words of the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk.
Cynical continuation of the old economy behind the scene, made possible by and implanted artificial experiences on the scene.

Experience in his first job

So we still face the challenge. The new era hasn’t really begun yet. Experience has arrived, but as a teenager in his first job, as a servant of the old survival economy. When we want to connect our wishes and needs for experiences with the production of goods and services, when we want a serious dialogue between consumption and production, this servant has to grow up… How can we make that happen?         
Philip Krabbendam                                 

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