Learning from London
London, August 2012, the Olympic City. It is a confluence, a trade route, a cultural mosh pit relieved of English patriotic duty by Danny Boyle. The English have taken their rightful place as part of the global melting pot, an ingredient, and this, their capital is the stand out evidence of it. Maybe New York as as many accents, languages, skin tones and hair types but London is less an immigrant mixer and more the node of a million networks, each neuronic connection bringing in old stories with new voices. This is the only western city to be integrated into the Majority World and as such it is important.
This week it celebrated its role with the Olympics. Five thousand miles from the fantasy world of Beijing, the self effacement canceled hundreds of imperial years and replaced them with a creative cry that welcomed every story in any voice. Local right wing loonies denounced left wing multicultural claptrap as the world offered first a quizzical look and then a unanimous cheer. This is not America. It is a city open to the world with the humility of the diplomat and the energy of a nightclub.
Within a few days I was thrown into the real London as people from 48 countries descended on Seedcamp, a start up clinic providing insight, support and mentoring for the R&D generation. Africa and Eastern Europe were there. In the hands of the start up generation fashion, music, food and drink are all being wired into social networks, apps and systems that make the sheer pleasure of urban living more immediate, cheaper and desirable. We even had the Manchester electronics expert, channeling the history of his own city, a history of wires, valve amps (tube amps) and industrial craft into a platform for DIY electronics the world over. This is world changing and shifts the creativity of our economy from the dominion of the large corporation to the insurgence of the close knit community. It had the energy of the rebel alliance but without the enmity of the empire. Large organizations have operational strengths. Small organizations are creative and innovate. Seedcamp brings these communities together and everyone gets energized.
The Majority World is about everyone. Specifically it is about the way anyone can engage with everyone. It is about ending, thanks to technology, the barriers to cultural exchange. The days when the flow of cultural influence was one way, from the west to the rest, have ended. In “Here comes everybody”, Clay Shirky explains that the creation of open source software, the best example being Linux (now on 40% of the worlds servers), was the product of a global network forming around one “start up” person, Linus Torvald. Cultural influence, being the influence of meaning, is as networked as the organization that created Linux. Torvald was a node not a source. And London is a critical node in the Majority World. It is no longer trying to be the center of the world but be a center for people who want to make the world for themselves. Chris Blackwell, the Linus Torvald of open source Jamaica, knew this was London’s future back in the years immediately after Jamaican independence. As a consequence the runners and the rude boys are now a global phenomenon. It is this role as a cultural confluence that makes London unique.
Seedcamp was held in an old Shoreditch warehouse repurposed by Google into a campus for tech startups. The trade of the old imperial world centered on this place and is imprinted in its bricks and mortar. Today the trade is in ideas and innovation. A warehouse of creativity connected to every other city on the planet. Its a good place to think.