Earlier today, Aaron Brazell over at Technosailor invoked his fellow technology bloggers to speak up and become leaders through what he sees as “the darkest hour in our recent history.”
We need leaders. We need people who are going to step up and instill confidence. Fred Wilson did this yesterday and I want to see more from a fiscally minded individual like him (he’s a VC). Scoble is still trying to process it all, and that’s expected, but I hope he will come to grips and start inspiring people at some point. All of the proverbial A-listers need to step up their games right now and be leaders.
He’s right in one sense. I’m not convinced that these are necessarily our darkest hours, but the real crisis may be one of confidence, rather than purely economic in nature.
Here’s the problem - and I never thought I’d say this as a former precocious youth myself - the dominant figures in the tech business are kids. I don’t at all have any disrespect for these ‘kids’ that are doing incedibly well for themselves.
‘Kids’ like Mark Zuckerberg, running a multi-billion dollar company.
Kids’ like Corvida and Alana Taylor, which do bang up jobs blogging with the big boys.
‘Kids’ like my boss, Pete Cashmore.
Obviously, with that list of folks in the category of people I’m talking about today, you know I’m not meaning to speak ill of a whole age-group of people (or the incredibly gifted and talented guy who signs my paycheck). But the majority of the pundits, bloggers, and businessmen have no perspective or frame of reference for our current troubled times. None of them have survived an economic downturn before. Most of them were still in high school during the original tech bust. Many of them were toddlers during the the market crashes in the 80’s (if they were yet born).
That in and of itself says wonders about the economic times we live in, but it also means that when they see the market take a down-turn like it did this week, they freak out. They say things like
“…this feels like a bad economy.”
“…we still have a lot further to fall before it gets better.”
“I get the sense this is major. Like, culture shifting…”
“This is the most catastrophic economic shift of our age.”
I’ve intentionally left out people’s names on these actual quotes, because you’d recognize the people involved, and this isn’t about calling folks out. The truth is that everything I’ve quoted above lacks ‘historical’ perspective.
In 2002, that was bad for not just those of us in technology, but everyone. At the time, I was living in Dallas, and I had been an “independent contractor” for almost a year and half. I put that in quotes because that was the preferred politically correct nomenclature for “unemployed” at the time. Before I and 699 other co-workers were laid off, I had been a coder at Nokia, and was instrumental in writing the standards and specifications for the mobile phone ringtone. Over the next year or so, I scraped by with doing website design and networking gigs
On that day, my roomate and I opened up the Dallas Morning News, and on the front page was a fellow standing in the middle of I-35, the highway most famous for being the opening scene of Office Space, holding up a sign that said “have MCSE, will work for food.”
Here was someone who had a Microsoft System’s Engineering certification, probably who made $50-60k before he was laid off. If he was in a position anything like mine, he was facing the real threat of starvation, not to mention the loss of a newly built house through missed mortgage payments, and no real work in site (technical in nature or not).
Here we are today, though, with an economy that despite the problems in the real estate and investment banking sectors, still employs about 94% of us. Relative to the total size of the US workforce, the recent layoffs have been very minor. Overall unemployment figures are only very slightly off from where they should be for a healthy economy.
Moreover, we live in an age that thanks to the advancements in technology in the last five years or so, allows us to be entrepreneurial much more readily than ever before. Yes, Steven and I love to crankily talk about how useless much of the crap in the Web 2.0 world is, but thanks to tools and concepts like eBay, Google Docs, co-working, social networking, cloud computing and Mechanical Turk - anyone who’s able to afford a laptop has the market capitalisation to open up a whole functioning office.
Think about it. Sure, it’s not enterprise level, but it’ll make due in a pinch. You can mostly get by while your business gets on it’s feet with these tools. There are hundreds of niche-specific marketplaces to sell your ideas, goods and services. The minutia related tools for managing your business are all free now. You don’t have to leave your couch to network with and meet the people who can assist you in your business’s growth. Your server costs can be almost nil. There’s even on-demand workforces for menial tasks.
A while back, I read an account of a single mom who, despite being an employed, skilled and degreed worker had to take her family to a soup kitchen. I found the article via Chris Brogan’s link blog. He shared it because it was a heart-wrenching tale that pulled at struck home for most of the intellectual workers who read his linkblog.
The story was introduced with the following opening paragraph:
Someone would have to be extremely cold-hearted not to be moved by some of the reports that have been appearing lately, describing the difficulties people are facing as they try to cope with the downturn in housing and the economy and the surge in food and gasoline prices.
When I re-shared the story, this is what I had to say:
I think I might be cold-hearted. In the midst of what must be the most horrible “recession” (by these tales) since the fall of Rome, I’m seeing the most opportunity and growth for everyone from the common man on up to the upper crust upper class. Simply put, if you have the ability to send emails from the comfort of your own home telling people how down and out you are, then you have the ability to buy dinner.
When I read this story, I don’t think “Gee, what a horrible set of circumstances this person has fallen into.” I think “This person isn’t very resourceful.”
That’s the point I’m driving at, today. Anyone who has the capability to read this has an economic responsibility amidst all this bad news. We have a responsibility to be encouraging to our fellow social media denizens (and our real life compatriots). We all have the tools at our disposal to carry ourselves through whatever economic crisises come our way.
In the two years prior to working for Mashable, I had made it a goal of mine to work full time as an independent journalist in the New Media sector. During that time period, I met my then soon-to-be-wife (and her son), and she and I wound up having another son. It seemed that every financial advance I made during that time, it was gobbled up by my own increasing costs as a new husband and father.
I had to make a lot of sacrifices to make ends meet. During that time period, I wound up selling off my very sizable comic book collection (via eBay), and about three quarters of the computers and video rendering machines I’d built over the years (via Craigslist), as well as eating up almost all of the savings I’d accrued over the previous three years.
At the end of the day, though, I’d accomplished my goals through resourcefulness, hard work and technology. This isn’t me patting myself on the back or fishing for praise. If you read this blog regularly, you know how to find and use these tools for your own goals, yourself. I hesitate to use the concept made popular by John F. Kennedy for fear of reprisal by linguistic purists, but it is said that the Chinese Kanji for crisis can be broken down to two other elements: danger and opportunity.
No, what this is instead is me saying you, the reader, exercise your capability in the face of economic adversity (no matter what form it ends up taking) to survive this and perhaps even prosper. It’s less important for those of us in sectors outside investment banking to pay minute attention to every movement of the stock market than it is stay nimble, practical, resourceful and to keep an eye out for opportunity. Is that, after all, not the goal of all the great tools and services we talk about daily on these pages?
You have the ability and the resources. It will be OK.
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