By Guy Mastrion
I recently finished reading the 25th anniversary edition of The Gift by Lewis Hyde. It remains stellar for anyone involved in the making of art and, maybe even more poignantly, in commerce too.
Lewis Hyde deftly leads us through the history of The Gift as an idea, as a representation of something that is in many regards an intangible — like having “a gift for music. The book speaks to the evolution and role of gifts in culture as a system of exchange, as well as within each of us, the gift of human creativity.
Twenty-five years after this book was first published, we sit before machines that give us access to a virtual world that is united in the spirit of the gift. Lewis Hyde may not have ever imagined such an evolution as made manifest by the World Wide Web, but he certainly understands at a very deep level what makes it the societal force that it is and so will you if you give this book a chance.
When I read Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, I found in their recommendations and musings the foundations of The Gift. When I listen to Seth Godin speak of tribes, I think of Lewis Hyde and how his insights predate those of Godin and so many other contemporaries.
On page 317 of Hyde’s book (in the edition I have) there is a quote from Mussolini that seems relevant here; it was during a speech in 1934 that he noted that after the industrial revolution, “¢‚Ç¨¬¶the problem of production was solved and that people could now turn their attention to distribution.”
While I can profess that I am not a fan of most of what Mussolini helped usher into the world, I have to admit this notion seems well at home in this moment in time. If we consider technology distinct from industrial development, then maybe now we are at the doorstep of the post- technology revolution. Yes innovations will still come but now that we have solved production and distribution across almost every industry, especially the distribution of knowledge, we now have to find ways to harness this gift of vast knowledge to solve our most pressing issues.
As we all wrestle with new ways to use and describe what is before us, I come back to the importance of the idea of The Gift, and how the millions of exchanges of information that zip around the globe every day have the potential to put so many great minds to work, to leap to the next great step forward, to solve the energy crisis, global warming, clean water, cure diabetes, cancer, HIV, heart problems, or maybe just simply put a smile on someone’s face.
What have you shared with the world — a simple idea, a grand gesture? Its magnitude may take years to fruition.
We have The Gift. Let’s use it.