Friday, September 25, 2009

A Brief History of the Language of Luxury

From the beginning wealth has been a sign of power.

At first power came from control of nearby territory
And the signs of wealth and power were special things from the nearby territories

Horses in Arabia
Silk in China
Pearls in Micronesia
Salt in Salzburg
Silver in South America

And each territory that was a kingdom
had its own signs and symbols,
its own code of
wealth called Luxury.

With time, new wealth and power came from trading between the territories.
And banking to support trading
And the navies to protect trading.

And the new signs of wealth were the luxuries
that came from far away places.

And these luxuries were added to the old.
Silk and spices in Europe
Woven fabrics in Africa
Thoroughbred horses in Asia
And luxury became a common code of wealth
across various territories.

In the industrial era new wealth and power came from manufacturing.
And providing energy to factories
or distributing things in cities.

And the new signs of wealth, the new luxuries,
were powerful things that moved.

And these symbols were added to the code.
Steam powered yachts
Private railroad cars

Over the centuries all these forms of wealth and
power and their concomitant luxuries had
developed slowly.

And the people who had them came to
be known as aristocracy and then old money.
And they stuck together
Transmitting the accumulated code,
the signs of wealth and power,
to their children, especially the boy.

Keeping it from their employees and the hoi polloi

(Carnegie was the exception that proves the rule.
He gave his fortune and information
away a library at a time to the last dime.)

The signs in the code included:

driving (or being driven in) the right cars,

having the right number of homes in the right places,
with the right art on display

wearing the right clothes and right accessories,

vacationing in the right places,

traveling in the right way,

dining in the right places,

reading the right writers,

listening to the right people,

going to the right events,

having the right kind of wedding,

going to the right schools

supporting the right charities

and doing all these things in just the right combination.

In the 21th century new wealth and power came from information.
From knowing, creating, manipulating, processing, storing, and
distributing information.
And from applying information to all the historic forms of wealth and power.

And the new sign of wealth and power:

the new luxury was knowing.

Knowing about health, beauty,

Knowing what to know,

Knowing whom to know,

Knowing who knew,

Knowing how to know

Knowing the people who were well-known

Even knowing how to remain unknown,

And the people who knew were known as new money.

They came from ordinary, un-monied families.
They quickly grew in number
Outnumbering the old money
They were too many, all at once, to fit in with the old money.
And their parents didn’t know the code.
Making it hard to learn the old money code.
But they had to communicate.

And since they were too many to be all the
same and had different information new codes developed
different from the old money code and different from each other.

Six codes developed, six ways of $igning.

Each included certain ciphers
(symbolic products, services and experiences)

chosen from the innumerable possibilities

according to the strategies they represented.

About how needs are met and benefits
selected. in an increasingly global economy.

Each code was communicated in a signature amplitude and frequency

Over different combinations of channels

Using different levels of redundancy
and different rates of obsolescence.

Each code varied from a norm, a state of equilibrium.

Each a different pitch (like the modem tones that send a fax).

Or waves of pixels that inform your computer screen.

Each made sense and was clearly under
stood if both sender and receiver
had a similar algorithm,

Otherwise the code was merely gibberish.

One could rave about the latest fashion trend the
other would perceive only an enigma

unless they shared a common rosetta stone.

Richard Baker

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