As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Cultural overload

info-overload.jpgGoing to the Connecticut Forum this week highlighted the appeal of small to medium size city living.  I could imagine that, if I lived in Hartford, I would be thoroughly plugged into the cultural scene, in a way that was so easy for me when living in Dublin.  (And something I find elusive in Boston.  I could blame myself, my inertia, but it is far easier to blame the place, natch.) The theory is that the rarer the event, the more likely I am to make an effort to attend.  I don’t think I am unique in this vein.

In Boston, big name speakers, world-class concerts, theatre, symposia, exhibits are a dime a dozen.  So much so that they tend to just wash right over me.  If I miss it, there will be something equally worthy next weekend.

“Missing it” in Dublin brought a sense of real loss.  “It” –the speaker, the event, whatever–would probably not be easily replicated any time soon.  Missing it meant being left out of interesting conversations with friends.  Missing it meant not getting the jokes or references made on the radio or in print.

In contrast, in Boston, I never have a sense of having missed something.  My friends’ and colleagues’ activities are too diverse and we don’t really talk about cultural events nearly as much as we did in Ireland.  There is simply too much going on.  For instance, I just left a party where four friends with four differenct theatre subsciptions compared the mertis of their venue of choice, but not one of us had seen the same play.  Despite the fact that we share the exact same passion.  Frustrating. 

As an aside, the Red Sox and Patriots are notable exceptions: they are always useful for stimulating conversations in Boston, no matter what the audience.  My Pilates teacher, who has no interest in baseball, always listens to Sox games to make sure he is prepared for conversations with his clients.

Granted, Dublin was special, being the only sizeable city in the Republic of Ireland, and the capital of the country to boot.  But I do wonder if places like Austin or Madison would offer similar benefits.  I’m not talking the whole creative class argument, as interesting as it is.  I’m just talking about the ability of a single person to feel plugged in and committed to cultural life in their given city of residence.  You can “own” a place like Ann Arbor, or Jacksonville.  You really can’t “own” Boston.  You can just be a participant.

2 Responses to “Cultural overload”

  1. Richard S.

    Hey Jules,

    This post also touches big issues for me and I believe for many of us. We not only want to be plugged in…we need to be plugged into things together…ideas, each other, emotions, discovery. The reality of first hand shared experience is essential. We hunger for it. Just being part of it….an event, concert, the culture scene, a game can be satisfying at some level, but actually participating together…..sharing it…. is what really feeds us, sparks us and fills us up. This is the fabric of community and family.

    I would agree with your sense that it is easier in medium sized cities to find “things”, be part of things and if you choose, to own things. My experince in Hartford is that it is easier to figure out the roadmap of politics, culture, community life. It is easier to find people and to be found. It is easier to do the research, make choices and actually become part of organizations, boards, or find the resources and people to start something new a la The CT Forum.

    There is still plenty of inertia and the forces of closed cultures and turf battles exist and can be powerful and seemingly impenetrable in smaller cities, but even these hurdles are easier to discover so that you know when to jump, when to just plow through, or when to get out of the way and find something else.

    The choices are endless and our hunger to share is powerful…. thanks for your personal sharing Jules.


  2. julespieri

    You said it even better than I did. I think the thing that most struck me about being in Dublin was having a sense of “being more alive” by virtue of that discovery process you describe so eloquently. Engaged, interested, experimental. I got involved in things that I’d never have attempted in Boston: journalism, international sports, being a reader for a huge literary competition, broadcast media, creating mover-and-shaker business events.

    A lot of that was facilitated by moving country and wiping the slate freeing up a lot of time by shedding other responsibilities, relationships, and traditions.

    But the bigger part was the sense of connection and community. As you write, it becomes more personal when the scale is smaller.

    Strangely, that sense of community is a very rich part of our suburban lives in Boston, but it is of extremely limited scope. Bounded by the activities of a very small town. Contributing and participating feels more like doing your duty than feeding the soul.

    The Connecticut Forum definitely feeds the soul. I really admire your having had the vision and energy to create it, and keep it growing. Hartford is very lucky to have you and Doris.


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