Sometimes, you know, life is hard. Cabin Fever’s very small staff has been going through some tough times lately–one of us found telecommuting too impersonal, one of us has been dealing with serious illness, two of us have relocated to make it easier to deal with the above…and, of course, there’s been the inevitable angst about our lack of productivity. So, as for writing software? On a schedule? Well, it hasn’t been happening lately, and I just want to say that’s not cool.
But maybe…well, I don’t want to say all this has been a good thing, or that I wouldn’t rather have had a Slurpee. But still. Maybe, in the end, we can see that the end isn’t yet.
So, I’ve been wondering: assuming we don’t want to just give up and watch soap operas all day, where do we go from here? And how?
And I think I’ve found a kind of answer: we do what we already knew we needed to do, but forgot for a while.
Let me tell you what that means to me.
I’m a big fan of distributed systems, by which I sometimes mean software that runs on multiple computers, preferably designed without a single point of failure. With, you know, backups and redundancy and such. On the other hand, sometimes I mean I like a free market, and choices in education, and avoiding what I call a “potato famine” design for, well, anything that matters.
Potato famine designs come about, for example, when an entire nation grows the same crop. It’s a very efficient system, with all sorts of economies of scale built in, right up until a blight strikes that single point of failure and brings starvation and financial ruin to…everybody. You could probably get the same problems with single national currencies, educational programs designed to turn out children who all studied the same curriculum, and any sort of imposed monopoly. Or within any large corporation, or any other system designed to monitor or influence the way people think.
The problem, I think, is that people are complicated creatures in a chaotic world–but we seek out simple solutions and simple explanations, because they’re easy to grasp and fit well into sound-bites on TV. So we buy into these weird ideas that attempt to force us (and our neighbors) to become logical creatures in a simple world, with none of that messy squishy real-world ickiness. Wouldn’t it be neat if we could all just get along? If we could all just agree?
Except that doesn’t actually happen, and never will. If the entire population of the planet were somehow forced to adopt a single mindset, to believe in the 7 Most Effective Political Solutions…well, their kids would rebel against that noise. Differently. And all over the world. Which is a good thing, and a thing that gives me faith in the long-term survival of humanity. However much we might seek out simplicity, the truth is that the world is more complex than any number of sound bites, and we’re not actually all that good at evaluating individual ideas anyway–so it’s a good thing we’re always trying out billions of them.
Something really interesting is happening just lately: it’s getting easier and cheaper to try out many types of new ideas. A new business can be started up in an afternoon, and if it fills a perceived need, it can be making money by the end of the week.
As a corollary to the above, I think big business is on the way out. Once we reach a point at which making “enough” is easy (and we have), “good enough” drops very quickly in value. At some point the products that are valued are those with a story behind them, that are made precisely for a small segment of what we today would think of as a market. And no corporation is ever going to be better at telling stories, personal contact or individual attention than…an individual human, or a small but dedicated group thereof.
So: those bloated, politically-correct, one-size-fits-all mega-boring corporations? Toast. Sorry, guys, but I don’t think we humans will miss you a whole lot. If we paid more attention, you’d be gone already. (Or maybe if we quit paying attention.)
I think we’re heading into a future where small businesses not only thrive, but become the only type of business that works. This will come about within a world of complicated interconnections, with no easy sound bites about who’s doing what–if we want to root for an “industry,” well, they might be hard to spot. Though there will still be soccer.
Thus, finally, I’m ready to tell you about the title of this article. We all need things to believe in. But I’m going to try to avoid believing in anything that can be said on television. I’m going to try, instead, to build things that speak for themselves. Software (because that’s what I do) that will help us to reach a sort of distributed economy–not in a “black market” sort of disparaged meaning, but instead an ongoing celebration of what we humans can accomplish.
Here’s the thing (today): Sound bites are dangerous, and politicians are attractive nuisances. If we let them, along with Big Business, dictate the way we think, eat, sleep, and live…none of us will reach our full potential.
So instead of trying to promote any particular agenda, Cabin Fever is here to promote the idea of individual agendas. We want to focus on the interactions between small businesses and technology, and make those work better. Starting today, again.
Those other guys? The ones who think they’re the big kids on the block? I figure we don’t need to worry about them too much. Once we get busy doing our thing, individually and in all directions, the next time we look they won’t even be there.
Want to help? Got some useful ideas? We’d love to talk about it, and find out what we can do–all of us, but not all together.