Industries are often held together by unspoken hierarchies, signposts on the road to achievement.
In the fancy parts of the book business, it’s not profit. Editors are often unaware of which books are truly profitable. They keep track of cultural impact, literary respect, the idea of a book being ‘well published’ and the hard-to-measure currency of ‘important’.
The Kindle and the long tail changed that, with new entrants keeping track of something else.
The “A” list movies, on the other hand, have an entire circle of status that’s organized around Academy Awards, famous directors and a pecking order that would be invisible to many of us.
Netflix and Youtube changed that as well, with new entrants keeping track of shorter cycles and different metrics.
In Silicon Valley, which has been an engine of our future for thirty years, technical prowess and elegance were the key drivers.
Now, the focus has shifted to simplicity, memes and momentary cultural currency in search of big numbers. The new signposts are about cultural ubiquity, IPOs, quick flips and harvesting data.
Apps instead of programs, user interfaces that need no instructions and don’t really reward a lot of effort, and output that’s driven by both. Like a roach motel, the goal is to make it seductive and hard to escape.
The hierarchies of status drive decisions far more than we realize. We often architect the systems that create our culture without paying attention to why.