A critical view of experience economy

A critic to the experience economy

Experience economy is seen as an opportunity for business to propose new services based on entertainment and immaterial contents

As such, experience economy is often presented as a way for industrialised countries to re-gain the competitive advantage lost with the relocation of production activities to developing countries: they argue that experience requires an advanced design and planning activity that can only be performed in developed countries (with technology, cinema, and other media) and anyway is strictly linked to the culture of the receivers, therefore it is strongly dependent on the market location (and the biggest markets for experience-based industry are still western countries).

In this sense experience economy is event based: the event is the product to be sold to users in the experience economy. Users are passive receivers of the event proposals

This is a top-down interpretation of the term, which is based on a dichotomy service provider/served client. Of course this perspective is also based on the direct involvement of the served client in the development of the experience, but the characteristics of being event-based, or ephemeral, is recurrent in several experience-based services and activities.

Although this view may have a strong economic foundation I would also consider an alternative perspective that starts from a different idea of what experience is. I am thinking of a bottom-up approach that focus on the true meaning of the word: experience, from ex-perire, that means to try, to get knowledge about something through direct involvement. For this reason a bottom-up approach should start from the assumption that users are in fact an active part of the process, not just spectators.

Furthermore the term experience refers to an activity that generates knowledge, in this sense any activity that implies direct involvement is experience, not just a special event organised by someone else. For this reason experience should be considered our everyday life, rather than a special event.

Is this a basis for an economical development? Is there anyone that could develop a profitable business out of this perspective? Probably not, because the term concerns an aspect of our life that we should be able to manage by ourselves. Yet, if we look at our life, we realised that many activities of our daily life could have been perfomed by ourselves, instead we ask for help from someone else, often (more and more often) from someone we pay for help. Our economic system, based on an invasive diffusion of products and technologies that have replaced several activities perfomed by ourselves is making us unable to perform basic functions and we need a help. Among such functions there are also social functions, such as talking with new people, visiting friends, knowing the right person. An opportunity emerges, whether it is acceptable to put it in business terms or not, to support people in recovering such daily functions, also considering that the lost capabilities to perform such functions are in fact implying a personal and social cost that must be paid.

In Amartia Sen’s terms (Sen 1985; Sen 1999) when we start missing the capabilities to use our own resources for get to our desired results (Functionings) we are in fact decreasing our well-being, therefore a socio-cultural system that makes us more and more dependent on external help to perform the most basic experience-related functions we are in fact decreasing our well being. From this perspective the experience economy may be no longer seen as an area of opportunities, but rather as a question that requires urgent social and cultural intervention, even at the level of public institutions.

In those terms experience economy may seem much less attractive to business and design, but I am convinced that, even in this perspective (or possibly especially in this perspective), huge possibilities for innovation can be discovered.

Sen, A. (1985). Well-Being, Agency and Freedom: The Dewey Lectures 1984, Journal of Philosophy, Inc. 82: 169-221.

Sen, A. K. (1999). Development as freedom. New York, Knopf.


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