Happy Messy New Year

 Ken Carroll from Chinesepod, one of Time Magazine's Top 10 podcast sites in the world, turned me on to a site called BubbleGeneration that discusses issues in the Internet Economy. While reading the analysis of why MySpace works and LinkedIn does not, I came to understand that living in China (or Asia) is a bit like MySpace and that living in the US, or specifically Redmond Washington, is like LinkedIn. You need to read the analysis of the two sites to better understand the analogy. As the new year approaches, the bubblegeneration essay talks about the larger implications of not just the tech industry but about our world in general.

Messy vs. Clean 

Myspace is the digital ghetto. It's ugly, nasty, and brutish. But it's got soul and character. Interesting conversations happen there. In other words, it's messy. And, in large part, that's why it's rocked - messiness explodes value creation at the edge.

LinkedIn is clean, smooth, and streamlined - and utterly devoid of any possibilities for meaningful interaction. 
... 

What is a basis for advantage is exploding what was clean and streamlined yesterday: unlocking new possibilities for value creation which are messy because interactions at the edge are richer, deeper, riskier, and, ultimately, human.

They're not - like the skyscrapers modernity built, or the boardrooms that sit atop them - cold, streamlined, and clean.

In other words, tomorrow's businesses won't look - already don't look - like yesterday's. Myspace and LinkedIn are tiny examples of a larger earthquake rolling across the global economy - more and more firms are learning that getting messy at the edge beats trying to keep wiping the core clean.

Living in China really does feel like you're in the cusp of something big, something new, and something exciting. Everyday existence here is at times frustrating, depressing, annoying and incredible. I step outside my apartment building and everything seems alive and changing. My neighborhood changes more in one month than the city I grew up in the United States does in a whole year. New laws, business models, and opportunities all seem more possible here than in the United States. Amidst the chaos and bureaucracy there is a sense of plodding but inevitable change. Going to the bank is an adventure, commuting home on a scooter is a thrill.

 In contrast, living in the US, particularly suburbia (which is the name of the street I grew up in) feels a bit stagnant and even empty. I do not see peddlers or people selling pancakes on the streets. I never see my neighbors and everything requires a car. Life is comfortable with conveniences and great cable television but unless I arrange dinners with other people or see them in a bar, I would rarely interact with anyone outside of work or my immediate circle of friends. People are polite and simple things from paying bills to going to the mall just works. For some, living in the Shire of the suburbs is all they want and need. Things change very little and they live in a quiet safe backwater of the world which means nirvana to many.

Living in the capitol of the most populous country on Earth, which will eventually have the largest market of everything in the world, is like perpetually being in the Friday of a coming three day weekend of possibilities. We force ourselves to meet each new day and each new person with a steely determination to keep going.  We have all gone back to visit the Clean and Streamlined and after a few days found ourselves bored and missing the community, the soul, the dynamism of a messier more interesting existence. So, we stay in China and wonder with each new year (or when the Olympics come) if its time to go home.  One day the time will come to do so but today is not that day for many of us.

-Frank Yu