Monday, June 03, 2013


I don't plan on reading Mitch Joel's book, even though some smart people I know have recommended it.  You may never have heard of him, but he's considered something of a visionary.  I don't plan on reading the Jared Cohen/Eric Schmidt book either, about how important it is for the future of the species that everyone get online, as much as possible, and use a certain search engine, because peace.  

I'm not really big on the "we're all just atomized individuals trying to keep afloat in a raging torrent of change" genre of nonfiction.  That's partly because there's a huge lack of historical context to this stuff - is the Pace of Change worse now than, say, when the Mongols swept through eastern Europe?  Is it worse now than when western Europe was one big sweatshop of satanic mills?  


And also because that was what unions were designed to help with, at least in the modern era.  And while you probably are for unions in principle but decry their corruption in practice, the idea that the only way for the modern middle class to survive is through ruthless individual personal action and competition seems to ignore the fact that, by and large, we've succeeded as a species because of collective action.  Who built the pyramids?  Who built Hoover Dam?  Who signed the Declaration of Independence?  Who played Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?  It wasn't a bunch of individuals convinced they had to outsell the next guy on LinkedIn or they'd end up working as a call center manager in suburban Arkansas; or maybe it was, but they all worked together anyway, and that's why we can have nice things.  So for some reason the kind of collective action unions promote is unacceptable, but when rich people band together and force us to fight the Hunger Games in our office parks in web time, we're just helpless against the sheer awesomeness of their style and the horrifying onslaught of their buzzwords, mere flotsam on the torrent of history.  We're just victims of capitalism, helpless to take ownership of our future except on terms that involve using search engines or optimizing for the same.  We certainly can't take ownership of the root causes of our victimhood because... well, I'll leave you to imagine what that would look like

But Mitch's slideshare presentation suggests something on slide 13 just ju-jitsu enough to work.  It turns out that more people have mobile [phone] subscription service than access to safe drinking water, which is just stunning, but an eminently solvable problem.  And I'm not talking Swiftian "let them drink electrons" kinds of solutions either.

What we need is a Kickstarter project to figure out how to sell advertising on, and accessories for, water.  Modern capitalism has demonstrated that it will move heaven and earth to get a device that sells for $400 into the hands of billions of people if that same device can be used to display ads.  If we can figure out how to put display ads on water, and even food, we could get clean water and food into the hands of all those starving people right now staring at their phones in numb exhaustion, unable to thumb through the previews for the next Game of Thrones episode.  We could get them right at the watering hole, literally.

I think Kickstarter is the way to go here because that's the way you fund things these days, through crowdsourcing, which is the kind of limited-democracy collective action - people who vote with their wallets! - that modern capitalism can get behind.

1 comment:

Sharon Dymond said...

"It turns out that more people have mobile [phone] subscription service than access to safe drinking water..." That is mind blowing.