The New Invisible Competitors

That is the title of my piece in the new Wilson Quarterly, not on-line anytime soon and yes you should subscribe.  The piece looks at how people emotionally respond to the move from neighborhood, face-to-face competition to competition at a distance, or what I call invisible competition.  Some people will fare better in this new environment than others; for instance people who rely on adrenalin to compete will find it harder to motivate themselves in this new and more impersonal environment:

The greatest gains in this new world are likely to go to people who are methodical planners or who love the game for its own sake. Some people plot their competitive strategies far in advance. These planners–be they crazy or just highly productive–don’t need anyone breathing down their necks, and indeed they often work best alone or in very small groups. Bill Gates is a classic example. Planners’ behavior may manifest itself in very competitive forms, but their underlying psychology is often not very rivalrous at all. They are ordering their own realities, usually for their individual psychological reasons, rather than acting out of a desire to trounce the competition. Early risers will also be favored. These people enjoy being first in line, or first to use a new idea, for its own sake.

Of course many of us miss face to face competition, so we try to recreate it in trivial ways, sometimes using our children:

As the concrete manifestations of the more important contests of love and business vanish, we recreate up-close rivalry to make our lives feel more real. I suspect that this helps explain the growing appetite for televised athletics and organized sports for children as well as the vogue for reality TV series such as Survivor and American Idol, eating contests, and even spelling bees. Because children are a cheap labor supply and willing to engage in all sorts of behavior for a chance at a prize or parental approval, they often serve as the vehicle for parents who seek to live out their desire for head-to-head competition vicariously. Spelling, for example, does not interest many people (who sits around practicing?), but bees exemplify the competitive spirit in action. The challenge to spell autochthonous, panmyelopathy, or warison will bring one kid to tears and another to triumph.


Comments for this post are closed