The epidemic of the internet has infected every aspect of human life. Once limited to the sending of e-mail, hardly any area of human existence today has escaped the contagion of the World Wide Web.
There is a “Three Click” rule in the digital world which states that if users have to click more than three times to get information, they will lose interest. The attention span of the average internet user now rivals that of a goldfish – commonly believed to have a 3-second memory.
The demand for instant gratification has changed more than download plan speeds provided by telcos. It has also changed what consumers attribute value to.
Welcome to the Experience Economy.
Where once our parents saved to buy and hoard assets, as a way to retain value and leave a legacy for their children, the Millenial generation prefers to pay for access and experience.
Some cases in point.
Music was once a creation. Mozart wrote in stupendous bursts; Beethoven took years. Both composed symphonies that have lasted centuries. They were sponsored by rich patrons for whom a musical legacy was their way of achieving immortality.
Even as recently as the Baby Boomer generation, music was treasured in the form of vinyl records, cassettes and then CDs. A Louis Armstrong album was treasured even after the vinyl was irretrievably scratched.
Today, YouTube has become a platform for every teen with a phone camera to shoot for fame. Melodies are created digitally so mastery of an instrument is irrelevant. Voices can be electronically enhanced, so anyone can be a pop star. There is little point in buying music, because musical tastes change so quickly. If you don’t agree, see if you can remember much of Gangnam Style, once a runaway hit.
Hence the explosive growth of music streaming services. Spotify is the most famous; but Apple and Amazon do it too. Subscribers can access an entire data base of tunes, estimated to exceed 30 million songs. In today’s “Hip Today, Who? Tomorrow” culture, it is the quickest and most wide ranging access to what’s hot that is prized.
If music be the food of love, Spotify is the McDonalds Drive Thru.
Traditionally, an art collection was a sign of economic, cultural and even spiritual superiority. Art was commissioned to establish the standing of the family, and handed down through generations. It is still one of the asset classes where the ultra rich park their cash.
Art ownership is, however, inaccessible to many. First, there are the eye-watering prices. Then there’s the question of whether the more experimental works are just a passing fad. Coupled with the modern consumer’s constantly changing tastes, these have resulted in the growing business of art leasing.
Want to impress friends with a Rothko but don’t have $81 million sitting around? Or, need a cutting edge sculpture in your company headquarters but don’t know your Koons from your Kandinsky? Keen to impress but secretly worried that one of your friends will mistake the Damien Hirst medicine cabinet sculpture for an actual medicine cabinet? (True story.) Fear not, the art leasing market has a solution for you.
DamienHirst MedCabinet (© Evening Standard)
Today, art has been securitized. Middle men take advantage of the arbitrage between cash-strapped art owners and consumers who want to swiftly tailor-fit a blank space. Art has become a consumer service, something you pay to enjoy for a fixed period of time. Less outlay is required and, when your toddler’s artwork starts to look like the Jackson Pollock drip painting, you can easily replace it with an Old Master.
Why buy Art when you can purchase the Experience of art? Today a spa treatment to pamper your tired feet, tomorrow a Picasso to soothe your aching soul.
It does not stop there. There are also rental services for almost everything you wear.
The rental market for handbags, designer clothes and shoes is well-established.
Now there are diamond rental services, and you can wear someone else’s sparklers for that swanky event. Anyone can shine like a billionaire’s trophy wife for a fee. As one diamond loving lady quipped “It’s more Bling for your Buck”.
There are also time share arrangements for luxury watches. Membership gives you the right to use the watches, and access to a concierge service that curates your desired timepieces. If you think you never really own a Patek Philippe, but merely hold on to it for the next generation, well, that’s half right. You don’t really own the Patek Philippe.
This Experience Economy has its upsides. It has made the finer things in life accessible to a wider audience, arguably making the marketplace more egalitarian. But the short-term mindset of the modern consumer could also lead to prizing a shallower experience over the intrinsic value of well-honed virtuosity. If our country’s recent Olympic victory has taught us anything, it should be that mastery can only come from effort, commitment and sacrifice.
For everything else, there will always be MasterCard.