Thoughts from Munich June 20, 2015
I'm spending the weekend in Munich on my way to Devoxx in Krakow.
I've done a ton of travel this year: London, Tokyo, Atlanta, Beijing, and now Munich.
I'm drafting this post from the San Francisco Coffee Company. So, yeah, I flew 11 hours and 1/3 of the way around the world from San Francisco to sit in a coffee shop named after my town, hacking on my MacBook, and feeling meta-mocking about the whole thing.
But the differences between cities around the world seems to be less and less. I'm really conflicted about this.
On the "homogenization is good" front: it's really easy to travel. Buying a flight from point A -> B is a few minutes online. This compares to when I was a kid and buying a flight was a 2 hour on the phone activity... or a visit to a travel agency.
With my mobile phone and maps, I can get anywhere I want in any city. I can find a good place to eat. No matter what I want or need in a city anywhere in the world, it's in my pocket (on my phone).
I can share my experiences with friends and I can get recommendations from my friends... or meet up with folks I haven't seen in years.
The homogenization leads to a much safer travel experience. Hotels will not tolerate employees stealing from a room because a couple incidents like that and the online rating goes way down. I'm staying at a marginal hotel in Munich and I'm not worrying. In past years, I would worry about staying at any hotel that was not 5 star because of the risk that stuff would be missing from my room.
Plus, I can get money from an ATM or use my credit/debit cards. I don't worry about acquiring a local currency before a trip. I can buy what I need with what's in my pocket. As long as I have my passport and a credit card and an ATM card, nothing else is an issue... okay, maybe you need a phone, too. This is radically different from the era of buying traveler's checks and managing local currency exchanges... something that consumed half a day before leaving and an hour in each new country.
Most of the cities I've been to are very Americanized. Yeah, it's great being about to speak English everywhere and get by. But beyond the self-centered part of that, the cultural differences between cities and countries is getting lost.
Walking through Munich this morning, the opening time of the stores was a material difference between Munich and San Francisco. All the same stores/brands are here in Munich... just like they were in Beijing and Tokyo.
Yes, there are regional brands, but even the successful regional brands are from similar formulas. "Ah, a mid-priced bar and grill like TGI Fridays". "Oh, the local Starbuck's competitor." Etc. The names are different, but the products are the same.
The products for sale are the same, everywhere. There are the high end brands... and for the most part the value of the high end brands is indistinguishable from the medium brands. Mont Blanc vs. Pilot or Lamy. Rolex vs. Seiko. And the rest of the stuff for sale is made to spec in China. The stores and brands are crafted to appeal to particular economic segments... but the amount of real difference is somewhere between marginal and non-existent.
So, what's left? I think local art is still something that distinguishes cities. Not really a flushed out idea... just a notion.
And there are some cities that seem to embrace and surpass the brands and homogenization. New York and Paris seem to have embraced the brands and have yet kept their own identity. Walking the Champs Elysees in Paris is a hell of an experience. There is every brand in the world in the 1 mile stretch of road... yet it seems that Paris still shines through.
San Francisco... sorry, but San Francisco has become a hipster mockery of itself. Yes, San Francisco has a culture... one that it's exporting... but I'm not sure it's the kind of culture that I want to embrace... kinda like Hollywood is its own culture, but not a culture I want to embrace.
Seeing the World
Seeing the world was a fantasy when I was young. And over my life, it's become radically easier to see the world. Sadly, the world I'm seeing is so much less diverse.