I'm James Wallman — author, entrepreneur, futurist. Welcome to The Future Is Here. We provide sensible, robust, useful strategic advice to people like you.

19 thoughts on the future of status

Status is incredibly important to people.

(Yet no one likes to admit that it is. Why is that?)

It's more important today than it's ever been. In an increasingly meritocratic, fluid society… 

(Note: is it really that fluid? It's not perfectly meritocratic. But compare it to previous centuries.)

OK, so let's say in a largely meritocratic and fluid society, how you appear to others is important. 

I read a neat piece in The Economist, Suitable Disruption, this morning which points out that suits are out, and you should dress differently to get status. It's the Silicon Valley anti-suit idea proposed by Peter Thiel in Zero to One. (It's a blog post from 2014, but they tweeted about it today.)

But there's more to status than wearing a hoodie.

And the piece set me thinking: How else do people get status? How is that changing? 


Here's 19 thoughts on how people stand out today, and how they'll stand out in the future: 

  1. Material goods
    AKA Veblen goods, conspicuous consumption… but the ways to display your wealth and status are changing fast.
  2. Less is more: in touch with eco
    But even with material goods, there is increasing status from having less, buying fewer but better. Consider the rise of minimalism (see Stuffocation), this post on JWT Intelligence about the Luxury of Less, and sites such as Buy Me Once.
  3. Experiences
    What Veblen called "conspicuous consumption of leisure". Where you've been, what you've done. Note the learnings in Scott Keneally's Rise of the Sufferfests, Scott Carney's What Doesn't Kill Us, and Alice Marwick's Status Update. Note that there is particular status from experiences that have to be earned, and that illustrate more than simply money.
  4. Conspicuous Caring
    Thinking of more than yourself has been a way to get status since ancient times. One of the virtues that Aristotle praised, as a way to the good life, in the Nicomachean Ethics was megalopropeia, or magnificence. The Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's efforts to make the world a better place are the obvious modern examples.
  5. Conspicuous Access
    Access to people, places that others don't have. This is one good reason why Quintessentially, the BlueFish and other concierge companies thrive. Note the importance of the rarity principle in defining whether access denotes status, and the ultimate example of this: the TED conference, where millions know about it, and very few go.
  6. Conspicuous Education
    Yet even this is changing. An Oxford degree in the Classics vs a General Assembly 12-week course in UX design skills? A coder who comes from MIT or a coder who taught herself?
  7. Conspicuous Connections
    The old adage that "it's not what you know, it's who you know". In a digitally connected world, connections are all. They're also transparent.
  8. Conspicuous Influence
    Power + connections = Influence. The more Twitter followers etc.
  9. Conspicuous Health
    Health indicates your ability to continue, to provide, to succeed. It also indicates your amortality — your choice to exist outside of the confines dictated to you by your biological age. In some way, you have risen beyond the limits of normal (old normal) human existence.
  10. Specific Attitudes
    Are some attitudes associated with status? A global outlook? Local concern? Insular thinking? Outward vs inward looking? Liberal or conservative? This reminds me of the Innovators on Everett Rogers's Diffusion of Innovations curve: those higher up the socio-economic scale tend to go to other places more. 
  11. Location, location, location
    Some places have higher status than others: it's better to be based in Shoreditch than Hammersmith. That idea isn't changing, but where is changing. (Hey, I'm not saying Hammersmith was ever hip… though there was some exciting light industry there in teh 1920s/30s.)
  12. Urban vs rural
    Once, way back when the economy was an agricultural economy, rural won. Back then the landed gentry held power. Of course, now cities are in the ascendancy. The "3 T" rules that come with Richard Florida's concept of the Creative Class are useful when thinking about which cities have most status: talent, technology, tolerance.
  13. Time off
    Busyness became a statement of status. (Time use studies show the upper middle classes working longer hours than those below them in income.) But it looks like taking time off makes us more creative and more successful. So this 20th century truth is switching.
  14. Conspicuous Creativity
    Creativity is seen to be the starting point for success — especially given the success of the cult of disruptive innovation. And think: would you rather tell someone you work at Goldman Sachs or IDEO?
  15. The Shifting Status of Gender
    Before, men held higher status. Note how women changed their name when they wed. But now, fewer are changing their name. Men wear rings. And even while many women change their married name, they still keep their old email address. (What will Google do about that? Will our digital identities become as/more important than our offline identities?)
  16. Digital vs analogue: On/Off living
    Is it better to spend your time connected, or to switch off? Is not having an email a sign of status — that you're an innovator — or a sign that you're a laggard? Should you reply to emails within an hour, or at a time that suits you — as Tim Ferriss suggests in The 4-hour Workweek.
  17. Resilience & Risk-friendliness
    In a world obsessed with success and startup culture, the people who take risks are the new heroes.
  18. The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth
    Again, quants rule the world, don't they? People who have the best chance to keep up with the machines — with new technologies like machine learning (ML) and AI (artificial intelligence) — by building them and communicating with them and understanding them stand to do well our increasingly digital world.
  19. Homo augmentans
    I believe humanity will evolve and become augmented — hence "homo augmentans". The more that a person is embracing enhancement and augmentation — in their homes, in their lives, in their bodies and their minds — the more they will express status, and be respected. For more, see Nick Bostrom's work on transhumanism.

What do you think? What's missing? What examples would bring these to life even more? Please comment here, or send me an email: james@thefish.co.


Love this! Sums up key learnings from the science of pricing

Here's one key trend in experiences: personal tours