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For-Fee XM Radio and the Enjoyment of For-Free Experiences

I’ve spent a lot of time this week, at the urging of FC, commenting on various news items that struck my fancy. Do please allow me now to share a somewhat lengthy story of a more personal nature. (I trust the indulgence worth the eventual economic observation.)

I’ve spent a lot of time this week, at the urging of FC, commenting on various news items that struck my fancy. Do please allow me now to share a somewhat lengthy story of a more personal nature. (I trust the indulgence worth the eventual economic observation.)

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Last night I went with my family to see the Cleveland Indians take on the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays at HOK-designed Jacobs Field. Both teams are out of contention for post-season play, and it had been an overcast and rainy day all Thursday, but we nevertheless dragged ourselves down to “The Jake” for the final game of our season ticket package. The late September game was meaningless and the night air chilly. Well over half the 14,000 in attendance left the ballpark during a brief rain shower that hit in the middle of the sixth inning. But we stayed the course and watched the Indians come from behind to win 5-4 in an error-free game that featured a game-winning RBI by rookie Ryan Garko (his 33rd since Aug. 20). I turned to my 10-year old son with two outs, bases loaded, the top of the ninth, right before relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt recorded the final out, and said, “Evan, the folks here right now….these are real baseball fans.”

We had been scoreboard watching all night long as the Baltimore Orioles had a no-hitter going against the loathsome New York Yankees. But when the Indians game ended, the scoreboard shut off, only to be replaced with multicolor, motion-filled graphics of the most experientially-gratuitous kind (ruining our scoreboard-watching experience). So we hoofed to the car, tuned in the end of the Orioles-Yankees game, only to learn that the Yankees had had a hit in the bottom of the ninth inning. Rats!

We switched the XM dial to the Royals-Twins game, a game with real meaning in the standings. The Twins were down 1-0 in the ninth as we arrived home and pulled into our garage. My wife and daughter quickly dashed inside. But my son asked if we could listen to the end of the game together while parked inside the garage. I said fine. So Evan crawled forward to the front, we reclined both seats all the way back, and listened in the dark to the final moments of the game. I kid you not: Evan proceeded to call the Joe Mauer game-tying home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Extra innings! Then in the bottom of the tenth, right before Jason Bartlett’s game-winning single with the bases loaded, Evan turns to me and says, “Dad, this is great. We’re bonding…whatever that is.”

Not priceless. Precious.

(And in this moment, I’m reminding myself of the adage of ol’ Mike Vance, founder of Disney University: “Some things are more important than sleep.”)

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“Priceless” is the commercial take of MasterCard on memorable experiences. “Precious” is the noncommercial worth of moments that transcend commerce. But note: the former enables the later. Without XM Radio, and my paying a monthly subscription fee for the experience of listening to out-of-town games in our Acura, I would have never enjoyed this particular bonding-whatever-that-is moment with my son.

In 1995, Jeremy Rifkin wrote a book, The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post Market Era, in which he brilliantly detailed how today’s Service Economy jobs are being eliminated, via productivity and automation, with the same full force with which Agragrian Economy and Industrial Economy jobs were previously eliminated. But Rifkin failed to recognize experiences as a distinct form of economic output, and in his economic pessimism (and Anti-Market disposition), he looked to government for solutions. (I remember watching him on C-SPAN, shortly after The End of Work was released, advocating legislation be passed to mandate a 30-hour work week for hourly employees. There was just not going to be enough work to go around!) Of course, we then wrote The Experience Economy, describing how experiences represent a fourth genre of economic output and providing the basis for new economic growth and job creation. Interestingly, Rifkin then wrote, The Age of Access, with a subtitle that I can’t help but think directed at Mr. Pine and me: The New Culture of Hypercapitalism Where All of Life is a Paid-for Experience.

Rikfin’s hyper-hyperbole misses the point. We need to shift to the buying and selling of paid-for experiences in order to remain economically prosperous. And in the process, new for-free experiences will be born of the most precious kind.

One thing I have always enjoyed about Fast Company is its economic optimism. I trust its readers lead the way in creating businesses that benefit us all.

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