The rise of cyber cities starts with the creator economy.
From 2016 to 2019 I visited over 50 countries in all continents. I met people young and old, nice and rude, millennials, nomads, and people who had never left their home country. In Ubers or in bars, conversations with strangers often led to shared insights and I quickly realized we often have more in common with strangers than we do with life-long friends.
What I didn’t realize then is that every one of these interactions was an automatic validator. A reminder that I’m not that crazy; I’m just reaching the same conclusions as people at the other side of the planet. Different backgrounds, different professions, different towns, but the same research holes when it comes to online habits and life questions.
Since then, I haven't been able to shake a question: how can we find one another more easily? How can we take advantage of this connection to build, innovate, and collaborate with each other?
Enter the creator economy
Content creators have become a lighthouse to all those looking for their tribe. In a world where geographical limitations determine the type of people we can meet, the internet thrives in creating space for cliques based on shared interests and subcultures.
Content creators act like curators, influencers, and entertainers in the age of overflow information. Whether they have a newsletter, a YouTube channel, or an online course, creators sell the products their audiences crave. And people are buying.
Public-speaking bootcamps for women in minority groups, paid newsletters teaching software developers to write, paid subscription access to elite monthly content - all examples of the content being transacted online today. Creators who polish their personal monopoly have a more authentic connection to their tribe. And entrepreneurs are noticing.
Companies like Substack, Patreon, OnlyFans, Gumroad, Etsy, Clubhouse, and Cuanto are only the latest examples of organizations building the space for this growing trend.
These are all companies that:
a) grew exponentially in the past year thanks to their software,
b) have a business model built around creators' content rather than around data-based advertising,
c) take a cut from the payment users give to the creators.
They have coded the infrastructure and designed the arenas where these idea fairs are taking place. And whoever builds the infrastructure, owns the rules of the game. A few lines of code can be as relevant as the “newsfeed” feature or the “like” button, both changing behaviors in ways many laws wish to achieve.
21st century citizens feel a clash of expectations between the types of representations they find from their favorite creators online and the type of politicians representing them in parliament; between the easy access they have to information on the cyber web and the long bureaucratic processes they are forced to endure every time they need information from their governments.
These cyber cities know no borders and no boundaries beyond the talent of their engineers and their preferred programming languages. Cyber citizens choose to stay in the city as long as they care about a given topic and they just as easily unfollow people they no longer trust.
The online tribe we build is the people we consult for medical inquiries, educational insights, or relationship advice. Like politicians who get voted into positions of power through votes, leaders in cyberspace are elected by likes, follows, and subscriptions. Some cyber cities will be small towns no bigger than 300 people, others as big as millions. Last time I checked, football player Cristiano Ronaldo was the most-followed person in the world with around 400 million followers on Instagram.
But, why is this relevant?
Well, because attention equals influence and creators are leading the next generation of migrations and trends. Just like in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, once we realize these soulmate communities exist, we act. We create meetups in physical and online spaces, niche conferences, and networking events, all in an attempt to bring online communities to "real life". We design co-living, coworking communities near Austin, Panama, or Bali with the intent of uniting with our cyber friends and building projects together.
The more strongly people identify with their tribe, the more actionable the community events are and the more accountable we hold each other. Whether it's an online prank like buying GameStop stocks to bully a hedge fund or a cohort-based course like Write of Passage, these online tribes gain strength and connection as the online world becomes an ever more intrinsic part of our lives.
Add Virtual Reality to the equation and you have entire communities hanging out in virtual spaces and working remotely in these cyber arenas. Add remote work to the equation and we have a population that is used to exchanging ideas and building projects online. Add online education to the equation and the odds of finding serendipity increase exponentially as you connect with people interested in the same topics as you are.
Cyber communities are so powerful because they go with you everywhere you go. They help you build a network of the most aligned and value-providing humans you can find and enable a space to construct upon a solid foundation. We’re seeing a rise of cyber cities, and wer’re clearly resident to a few, whether we are aware of it or not. How we take advantage of it is up to us.