Helping Change the System

I’ve spent a longtime thinking about this post. Is it perfect? No. Is this the way I live my life? Not fully…yet. Is it something I’m gearing towards? A bit more each day. Is it something I hope happens? For the sake of my kids and grandkids, yes.

Much like a legal document, let’s define something at the start to ensure we’re on the same page. When I use the word System (note the capital “S”) in this article, I’m referring to mass media and big business. I’ll leave the topics of Wall Street and our government for some other (far distant) day.

The only way to bring down the System is by depriving it of life. Yes, this could be achieved by violent actions, but I’m not a violent kind of guy. Instead, I’m thinking of something that will bring about the same effect, but will use positivity and humanity to starve the system of the money it needs to survive. Because more than anything, the System craves one thing and one thing alone: money.

And who is going to bring about this change? Why you and I, of course. For if not us, then who?

Problem: Mass Media

Solution: Local News, Real News with Highlights or Uncut Editions

I think the internet and society is finally getting to the point where this can become reality. Mass media is just that, news for the masses. Sadly, every major news organization will cover Kim Kardashian’s 72 day marriage because the masses do care about that crap. Kim has over 11.5M followers on twitter. I’m sure Kim is a nice person (I’ve never met her, so I honestly cannot judge her), but you can’t blame mass media for providing what the majority wants.

With Netflix though, we’re seeing something that will help bring down the establishment. Many people are canceling their cable TV (my family included) and are finding themselves happy without it. Think about it, they don’t have the Basic 150 or the Complete 500 channels and life is just as fulfilling. What Netflix requires though is an internet connection, and what can ride in with that connection is the opportunity to provide real, intellectual news and local area news.

The cost of high quality digital cameras are coming down dramatically. There’s no reason high schools, community colleges and local universities can’t start broadcasting as part of their journalism curriculum. Why study about journalism when you can actually go out and do journalism?

Sure, the first few outings will suck but they will get better over time. Like when I started recording my Flex training sessions and putting them on the web, I knew they’d suck. I purposely made them suck by not preparing at all for the first series. The reason I did that was so that others could see my output and think, “Oh I can do better than that” and go do better. It worked as many other User Groups followed suit and started providing their own training. The same will happen with this new journalism movement.

YouTube and Vimeo are still in their infancies, the same goes for uStream and other streaming video sources. As these tools evolve, so will the ability of the new journalists to replace a lot of the current trashy content with high quality content. Tosh.0 (whether you like him or hate him) is a great example of what is possible with today’s tool set. What he does at a macro level for laughs, new journalists can do at a micro level for impact. Imagine the day when a local event (high school football game or a dignitary’s visit) is captured by over 100 angles from as many cameras and cell phones. This new wave of journalists will be able to edit all that footage into an easily consumable format that show the highlights of the event as well as a link to the full coverage.

Eventually, the mass media will either have to give in and cut the crap to gain back viewers. Or dig themselves a deeper hole by covering even more crap since all they have left are the clueless masses. Regardless of which, their power will stem and dry, leaving the System with nowhere to broadcast their message.

I had dreams of creating the website to help bring about this change. I even bought the domains and to help bring about this change. However, I realize that while I can help, I’m not a journalist. We need a journalist to bring about this change. I’m more than happy to help from a technical side, but we need a voice of the new journalism to step forward to show us the way. If you’re that voice, feel free to contact me and I’ll do what I can to help you start this revolution.

Problem: Massive, Faceless Corporations

Solution: Local Markets and Tiny Businesses

I buy local fresh eggs from a neighbor and pork from the local butcher. My wife has been part of various local farm shares. I prefer to eat at local dives vs fast food chains. My wife mainly shops online bazaars for things like cloth diapers for our baby. We support local craft boutiques.

Ideally, we’d do all those things above, all the time. We don’t, however. We shop at supermarkets and Walmart. We use Amazon quite a bit. We drive an automobile and live in a home, both made by huge corporations. We have our money in a huge, mega banking institution and we are indebted to similar institutions via credit cards.

While the internet and society has helped us drift away from knowing our neighbors, I think it will come full circle. I see a time soon where an online map of your city/town/suburb/borough will list places to shop local owned businesses: bakers, chefs, butchers, craftsmen, tailors, etc. Technically, online maps do now but they’re not curated or easily digestible. You’ve got to pick the locals out from the megacorps on generic search maps or you need to seek them out via review sites.

Sadly, we can’t depend on the government, even at the local level to create these maps for us. By this, I’m not saying government is evil. I’m simply stating a fact that their hands are tied. They need taxes and jobs from Walmart and other big-box stores to sustain local economies. The traditional Main Streets of yore have died out long ago, but I think they’re on their way back only modified. Main street is no longer going to be an actual street but more of a map of your own local shops that you have to “visit”. My guess is that a lot of these virtual stores will only be open once a week (i.e. sorta like a garage sale), have only pickup or only do deliveries.

Let’s put to rest one notion, right here, right now: Walmart will beat the local shops on prices. If you are literally counting pennies, then it’s going to be tough to switch. You’ll likely have a “What’s in it for me?” attitude. Which is selfish, but honest and a real question as we have families to feed and bills to pay. I bet there are some things you can do without, but budgeting aside, I think there’s more compelling reasons.

We humans are meant to be happy. One way we are happy is to do what we love. I’ve watched a lot of businesses over the years. A lot of people shouldn’t be in business, but they are. Not only are they in business, but they have a life-sustaining business for many, many years. If you looked at their books and saw how borderline they were to folding every week, you’d really think they shouldn’t be in business. However, these people love what their businesses do/produce and that love/passion helps keep the business afloat.

Think about it for a moment. A lot of our purchases (alcohol, movies, books, food, cigarettes, clothes, etc.) are comfort purchases. We live miserable lives so we attempt to spend our way to happiness. Imagine if we loved our jobs because our jobs were our businesses. Imagine if we had the entire family involved in our business until they branched out in their own businesses. That’s why people who are passionate make for good business people even if the business isn’t making them rich. Let’s face it, if we’re all shopping locally none of us are going to be rich, we’ll likely just have enough to get by BUT we’ll be happier every day.

Most people would start a business if they knew how. We need to dispel the notion that businesses are meant for the “smart guys”, because they’re not. We need to reconsider our notion of “business school”. We don’t need to pay $168K for a 2 year MBA from Harvard to start, run or own a business. We need a $200 (or less) workshop that shows people the basics of how to run a business.

Isn’t running a business expensive though? Yes, there are costs associated with a business, but we can help each other disperse those costs. Here are some random ideas to change things up:

  • Shared space: Whether it’s a restaurant, office space or salon space, chances are you don’t need it all the time. However, rent for space requires you use it all the time because you pay for it whether you’re using it or not. Therefore, have a restaurant space that is actually 7 different restaurants (a different one each day of the week). People don’t eat out every day anyways, so why not only open your restaurant once a week? Let six other restaurants use it the other nights of the week.
  • Shared staff: Do we all need a bookkeeper, receptionist, janitor, etc? No, hire a local small biz to do this stuff. I don’t mean hire your local Molly Maids or AccountTemp personnel, but I mean look for a neighbor who’s passion/business is that task you need.
  • Shared Supplies: Everyone needs a printer, fax, paper. Every restaurant needs napkins, plates, flour, sugar, etc. The more you can buy, the bigger the savings. That goes even at the local level. Of course, not all supplies will be locally made nor will the ever be. It’s pretty tough to make a printer or laptop locally, but when you can buy things together, you can share the savings and maybe start to compete with Walmart’s prices.

The other thing that I’ve found is that your business doesn’t have to be your full-time job. You can try out your business, especially if you’re sharing space. Most of us need the income of a job to keep us afloat while we lockdown our business. Once the business takes off, then we can take a bit more risk. Why quit before you know if the business will do well or before you are even sure you really want to do it?

As more and more of our purchasing power goes to local shops, we’ll starve the big box shops of their needed revenue streams. It’ll be okay though. As they shrink, the local businesses will grow and thrive. Some will hire those laid off workers. Some of those laid off workers will start their own businesses as well.

I’d like to point out what my wife does quite often. She shops from small businesses via bazaars on the internet, only they’re now called forums. She buys fabric, diapers and headbands from people running businesses from their home. Heck, she even bought out one of the businesses she shopped from. She hopes to continue to provide that service she loved enough to buy the store of.

The internet will be the friend to this new way of shopping. We’ve luckily seen the downfall of the WebVan and businesses. But little shops that were around on the internet back then are still online now. When you have low overhead costs and love what you do, you’re a pretty unstoppable force to be reckoned with.

It’s like that scene in “A Bug’s Life”, where the ants realize they outnumber and thus overpower the bullying grasshoppers. We may be small, but in time, we’ll wake up, unite and take down the big guys.

Again, I’ve thought about trying to bring about this change. Today I finally registered the domain to be the placeholder for the business to bring about the change. However, I’m not meant to be the guy to bring about the change. I’ve got tech skills, but I don’t have the rallying power to bring about this change on my own. If you’re interested in being the one though, let me know and I’ll help you out as best I can.

In Closing

Just to reiterate, I’m in the same boat as you. I think there’s a lot of good in what I’ve said here, but I’m still a few years out from being able to fully stand behind all those things I talk about.

I’m also not saying this is a black and white type thing. I happen to love Pixar movies and they’re owned by Disney which owns ABC and ESPN. I also love the Apple Mac Pro I’m typing this on with the Intel chip it has inside sending data bits across Cox’s wires to get this on the internet. “Oh so those big businesses are okay?” I can here you ask. I’m not perfect. I’m human and thus am hypocritical by default. I know all this and that’s okay.

The future will not be without mass media or massive corporations. However, it is up to us to make sure that the power of the System doesn’t continue to grow larger and larger. We must take responsibility for our actions. We have to put our necks on the line. We have to be those early journalists that will be laughed at. We have to start those tiny businesses that will fail. We have to do those things so others can stand upon our slumped over shoulders to achieve greater things. And when they do, we’ll find the strength within ourselves to rise up and push them that much higher.

4 thoughts on “Helping Change the System

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