What do Paris in the 1920s, Naples in the Renaissance and Bali in the 21st century have in common?

The answer is they’re all sites for ‘Golden Ages’. Special places and times where the people living there significantly flourished in some way compared to other locations and times in history. They’re rare periods where a significant group of people has gathered together to advance a cultural activity to the highest level—paradigmatic examples of the human condition at its best.

Paris was the at the heart of the Roaring Twenties in Europe. Many of the best artists, writers, thinkers and socialites gathered together facilitating new ideas, works and trends that were ground-breaking for the 20th century.

Naples was a major metropolis during the Renaissance that acted as one of the most influential cities in Europe. Pioneering concepts in architecture, fine art, music, politics and more were elaborated here and would go on to shape the Enlightenment period.

Bali has turned from a very popular tourist destination since the 1960s into a widespread itinerant person’s mecca encompassing digital nomads, long-term travellers, remote entrepreneurs, expats, course attendees and others. It has become one of the de facto hubs for location flexible lifestyle design.

All these places differ from each other in terms of geography and culture yet they each became significant centres for scenes. Why do certain places experience Golden Ages and how do we find where the next ones are?

The factors behind Golden Ages

‘Golden Age’ refers to particular times in history when humankind thrived for sustained periods in many aspects of life such as peace, prosperity and trade. 

The term also refers to a place where particular scenes prevail relative to the same scene’s occurrence in other parts of the world. 

There were many places in the world during the 1920s where academics, artists and elites mingled but they couldn’t compete with Paris for impact at that time. Likewise, those who are location-free can travel anywhere their passport and finances let them but many still choose to converge in Bali.

Why do some scenes prosper and others never take off? 

What turns the embers of a fledgling scene into a full-blown Golden Age is reaching a critical mass threshold—when the interest and engagement from people gets to a high enough point that involvement becomes self-reinforcing. At this point, the amount of attention is substantial enough that the scene obtains social proof attracting others outside of it to participate without any existing member having to try to convince them.

What are some of the factors that can lead to a place developing a Golden Age for a scene?

Founders’ Momentum

While not all major sites for scenes remain where the scene started, the place of origin often has the biggest chance of growing into the worldwide centre point of the entire scene.

The founders of scenes usually have a strong vision and enthusiasm for how they’d like it to unfold whether the creation of a scene is intentional or not.

Due to their passion, founders tend to enlist close-knit members as the first people who form the core community. The strength of this initial network has an appeal that is difficult to replicate because of the drive of this group. The inspiration the core members have has a greater chance of rubbing off onto newcomers hastening the likelihood that the scene will reach a critical mass threshold faster than others.

We’ve all met people whose enthusiasm for something is infectious with their passion speaking volumes. Founders’ scenes are like this but on steroids—the core members bounce off each other to grow the scene in a way no individual can do on their own.

Note that founders do not have to be the very first people to start a cultural activity. A founder can be someone who brings a cultural activity to a new region for the first time.

In addition, the place where a scene is founded often gets referenced in a callback by the other regions that make up a global scene. The place of origin is acknowledged as the starting point and this gives it even more renown encouraging others to check it out.

For similar reasons, the sway founders’ visions can have on future success is cited by many venture capitalists and angel investors when looking to fund startups. Pay attention to the founders and core community.

Geographical Proclivity

The physical makeup of a place determines whether a scene evolves or not.

This might sound obvious but if the geophysical limitations of a location aren’t considered, there’s a risk of overestimating the growth potential of a scene in the country.

For instance, when it comes to surfing, you could have a beach town with idyllic beauty, inexpensive rental prices and warm water year-round but if the waves are dismal, a surfing scene is never going to take off there no matter how good the other factors are.

An example of a place whose enormous geographical proclivity led to success in its scene is the town of Bansko in Bulgaria. The town has become a premier destination for digital nomads in recent years.

Bansko is blessed with good snowfall and accessible mountain slopes. As a smaller town with a village feel in a developing country, the town is pedestrianised and accommodation is cheap. Along with plenty of coworking spaces and good internet making it convenient for remote work, visitors can take part in a range of leisure activities ranging from skiiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking and canyoning. Bansko is situated in the Balkans and easy to reach from most of Europe but is also a mere 2-hour drive from the coast of Greece meaning a person could ski and swim in the same day.

When it comes to alpine digital nomad spots, Bansko’s geographical advantages are hard to beat. It would be difficult for other ski-oriented spots to compete with Bansko for nomads due to the comprehensive package it offers at the prices it does. Once remote work became more plausible, Bansko’s geographical nature made it all but destined to grow into a digital nomad hub.

Sometimes the convenience and accessibility of a location give it precedence as the heart of a scene.

Naples’ position as a large port city in the heart of the Mediterranean gave it an advantage along with desirability in maritime trade and commerce. Various political leaders and heads of state wanted control of the region for its many strategic qualities and the city was under the direct influence or ownership of several realms such as France, Spain and Austria during the period. This overlap of internal and external influences made Naples a force in Europe in many domains. The city and surrounding areas may never have reached these heights if their geographical features were different.

As the underlying substrate on which a scene’s activities take place on, geography matters.

Golden Age Bansko Town

Institutional Support

When a scene becomes large enough, institutional backing (or at least non-interference) can be pivotal in deciding whether it stays at the same size or grows to new heights.

If a scene is particularly large, it may enter the radar of local or national governments. The short-term rental market has been a notable business scene worldwide since the launch of Airbnb but it either prospers or faces red tape depending on the country and/or city.

For example, London’s strained housing market led regulators to impose a 90-day restriction on short-term rental properties per year. The UK government looks to review short-term rental market activity for the nation as a whole making the scene for entrepreneurs in this space riskier. However, in other countries, short-term rentals are booming as the areas are less strained by sublets.

The upmost level of support would be a government boosting the prevalence of a scene across the globe. South Korea’s government does just this for Korean culture scenes. In 2014, it allocated 1% of South Korea’s annual budget to promoting the spread of Korean culture worldwide and continues to support the country’s scenes with a view to strengthening South Korea’s soft power. It’s no coincidence that K-pop, Korean TV and film and other major cultural tropes are soaring across the world—many would argue that it’s a Golden Age of Korean popular culture.

Support doesn’t have to take place at the governmental level. Scenes that grow to a decent size can lead to the formation of organisational bodies such as an association or federation that represents all locations of a scene on a national or international basis. This formalises the power of a scene since it becomes governed by a registered body and makes it easier to connect the different chapters across the world strengthening the scene’s network effects.

Dragon boat racing was mostly confined to southern China and Hong Kong until the 1990s when the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was formed. It’s now a full-scale international sport with its own world championship and is even being considered for inclusion as an Olympic sport.

Furthermore, if umbrella organisations aren’t formed, a scene can still have institutional clout if multiple businesses are set up creating markets around the theme of the scene. These can also be non-profit if needed (as most associations and federations are) but a market economy around the scene signifies its growing importance. Companies may be founded by community members or be existing businesses looking to cash in on the momentum of a scene.

Even if all scenes start out small, remember that institutional sway can make or break them if they become more famous. A Golden Age is tough to achieve if institutions don’t support the scene.

Pre-saturation Point

No Golden Age lasts forever, that’s why the period is termed ‘Golden’—its sparkle will fade at some point.

Golden Age Growth Curve

All growth follows what’s known as the Sigmoid Curve and thus the growth of scenes follows suit.

In the Learning Phase a scene is nascent, developing the core community in one or a few regions and working out the process for activities, promotion and exposure. 

In the Growth Phase, the scene skyrockets, evolving at its fastest rate throughout the process spreading to a large number of regions, even across the world and gaining mass publicity.

It’s at the peak of this phase that a scene can develop into a Golden Age since growth is at its highest. Yet, it’s important to understand that not all growth phases entail a transformation into a Golden Age.

The critical mass threshold mentioned earlier where involvement becomes self-reinforcing needs to be reached for the peak of this Growth Phase to count as a Golden Age. The critical mass threshold differs for each scene but a clue to look out for is spotting if engagement increases organically to a high number of people without effort. At this point, the scene has become viral and the peak turns exponential leading to a probable Golden Age.

Once in a Golden Age, the scene is said to be saturated. This means that it cannot exceed its current status anymore—it has maxed out its growth. The scene has reached its epitome and success is now about prolonging this state for as long as possible.

At some point which varies depending on the scene, the Golden Age will enter the Decline Phase where saturation turns into degrowth. The Decline Phase signals the end of any Golden Age and the contraction of a scene in general.

So, when looking at what scenes can become Golden Ages, you want to pay attention to scenes that haven’t yet reached their saturation points. Recall that if a scene has reached its saturation point and is not a Golden Age, it’ll never turn into one. Also, if a scene seems to have started declining such as through a reduction in membership numbers and engagement, then it’ll also fail to become a Golden Age.

See which scenes are in an exponential Growth Phase and on the cusp of becoming viral. This will be a huge indicator of a potential Golden Age.

How to predict the next Golden Ages

Now that we’ve examined the various factors that help contribute to the formation of Golden Ages for scenes, we can use them to find future Golden Ages or major sites for scenes in our own lives.

1. Pay attention to where the scene started and if the founders are consistently cultivating the group by holding events, spreading the word and growing the community

There are times when you won’t be able to know the founders from research alone but if the inner community of a region is developing the scene in the manner mentioned above, then this is also a reliable indicator. Since all scenes now have digital involvement one way or another, it’s crucial to make sure there’s a strong presence offline even if the presentation and reach look good online.

2. Think about whether the location of a scene has geographical advantages that won’t limit its growth and spread

This includes sufficient manmade infrastructure that makes it easier for a scene to take in higher numbers of people when it grows.

Bansko invested in its accommodation and coworking space options allowing it to hold a decent number of digital nomads whereas other mountain chalet towns may not have this infrastructure.

If it’s a scene you already have familiarity with, run a thought experiment of what your perfect location would be for the scene and see how close the actual location comes to this. If it’s far off what’s in your head, then that could signal an incompatibility leading to a future limitation.

3. Anticipate institutional involvement with a scene

Institutional backing usually evolves in a three-tier process in line with the growth of a scene: business/companies -> organisational bodies (e.g. associations and federations) -> local/national governments.

Be aware that the peak of a scene doesn’t necessarily mean organisational body or governmental involvement but it almost always leads to the institutional involvement of companies as a minimum. Reflect on whether the attached institutions will be a boost or a hindrance to the growth of a scene.

4. Look out for scenes in a Growth Phase with a high trajectory

They may be on the verge of entering a Golden Age if the other factors listed above are also met.

Detect whether a scene has a self-reinforcing feedback loop where extra members encourage further membership through word-of-mouth or self promotion.

Digital indicators such as social media hype can also signal this self-reinforcing involvement but make sure this translates to physical engagement and not just online posturing. Note that if a scene is declining and hasn’t entered Golden Age status, it never will.


Golden Ages are special times in human history.

Due to their rarity, many people never get to experience them first-hand. Part of the reason I’ve provided this oversight into Golden Ages is to empower others to have the choice of saying “I knew about it and I was there”. 

Being part of a Golden Age can scale your own lifestyle to new heights. The communities behind Golden Ages are thriving and can enhance your own ability to network, learn and grow along with them.

When a Golden Age comes to an end as they all do, you’ll be able to look back and recount how you were part of a unique period in human history full of extraordinary stories.

Essential to the creation of a Golden Age is a scene reaching a critical mass threshold—a level of membership and involvement that’s so strong, it becomes self-reinforcing encouraging growth of the scene without extra effort required.

There are a number of factors that Golden Ages share that separate them from mere short-term scene popularity.

Golden Ages often have passionate founders whose enthusiasm helps the scene flourish in the beginning. They attract a strong core community who make reaching the critical mass threshold for growth easier.

If a location’s geography isn’t suitable for optimal growth of a scene, then it’ll never reach a Golden Age. The strongest scenes have ideal geographical features for in-person involvement and growth among the community.

Scenes that achieve Golden Age status are supported by at least one tier of institution whether through companies, organisational bodies or governments. The more amenable these institutions are to the scene, the more likely it’ll turn into a Golden Age.

Lastly, all scenes follow a standard growth trajectory where their periods of max growth eventually saturate before declining. By definition, Golden Ages occur during the peak of a scene’s growth and avoid decline for however long possible.

Use this knowledge to anticipate Golden Ages for your own life. If there’s a scene you’d like to take part in and want to predict its trajectory to know where is best to go, the tips provided can help you so you don’t miss out. As we’ve seen, Golden Ages can spring up in different parts of the world so if you want to benefit from them, you’ll need a lifestyle that allows you to move abroad.

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