Objects at the periphery have a knack of coming into sharp focus.
Take Occupy Wall Street.
However you see it – whether you consider the 1% or the 99% the periphery – they have both been placed sharply and inevitably in the limelight in the past year.
Let’s take another example: the Arctic Circle.
Because of global warming and the inevitable creation of possible new sea-lanes and sources of petroleum, this vast but previously peripheral surface of the earth has suddenly become hot property for those countries surrounding it.
The Peripheral becomes Central.
Opportunity no longer lies at the heart but at the fringes of human endeavor, of markets, of cities, of traditional geographical regions. At the in-between spaces that have yet to coalesce to become something familiar and recognizable.
Take Central Asia – we know where it is, but what is it exactly, and why are China and the Gulf States investing heavily into it?
Take the Cloud – it is remote, dispersed, always peripheral, still not so easy to understand for non-technies (like myself), but yet that could very much BE the future of not just corporate but personal computing.
Fringe is Future
In the course of a year, I have lived at the fringes of Central London and New York, in the gentrifying boroughs of Deptford and in Williamsburg. It’s exciting living in these places because change (and growth) happens so quickly.
Complexity is the norm. Faultlines – race, class, income, etc – are negotiated on a daily basis and its in the process of these negotiations that new ways of human interaction, of doing business, new niche services and products are created that never existed before.
Case in point: Counselling for freelancers – a thriving business in Williamsburg where a majority of the population is some kind of aspiring artist, musician, designer, whatever.
Manhattan is like a petrified forest. The only significant NEW thing that has happened in the Small Island in recent years (post-9/11) has been the High Line, and THAT, I might add, existed for a long time at the fringes of the city’s memory.
The initial response to a proposal to transform a disused freight line into a Park was laughs of disbelief. But what was risible then is now a significant force for Manhattan’s economic and spiritual rejuvenation.
Lingering at the Fringe, Anthropologically
The thing to do is to linger at the fringes, to observe, like an anthropologist does, behaviours, needs, wants, conflicts in that space; to scrutinize, like a research scientist, trends technological or social that now appear ridiculous but have potential to be game-changing.
I would pay particular attention to traditional “technologies” and “skillsets” for example. These have a wisdom and efficiency that are often overlooked because they seem primitive. But they have evolved for thousands of years to address challenges in a very specific socio-environmental context. They might offer panaceas for some of the more chronic global issues we are facing, even urban and socio-political ones like housing or the provision of public services.
I would also pay attention to ways lower income communities “cope” or “manage” with less and to the micro-economies in these lower-income areas in the outskirts of the city – like the favelas in Rio. These might provide innovative solutions for business issues like corporate culture and change, and global issues like managing the debt crisis.
New strategy will require us to snap out of tunnel visioning and cast our eyes beyond where we are used to looking, all the time.
Blog Link #2 : PERIPHERAL VISION (www.peripheralvisionblog.wordpress.com)
An arts an visual culture blog based in NW America.