Maybe I’m just hanging around the wrong end of the internet again, but every time I turned around this week, I found another life coach or revolutionary thinker argue that the path out of the current economic slump is to focus on taking the freedom afforded by not being tied down to the old corporate structure and through new social networking systems and transforming yourself into a knowledge worker. It’s all about creating a presence through free content, and coming up with revolutionary ideas that will turn the world around. It worked for Amazon.com, it worked for Google, it works for Apple, so it should work for everyone.
Great, but I need to eat.
I don’t mean that in the way I usually would – that I need to make some money now to pay for my necessities in life. I mean that in a more basic way. I mean that I, and you, and Malcolm Gladwell, and even Seth Godin, need someone to make food. And cars, or buses, or bicycles, or some other transportation device. I need someone to make some shirts and underwear too. Electricity would be nice, as would clean drinking water being delivered to my house through a network of pipes. And maybe some laundry detergent and soap.
Perhaps it would be good if not all of these items were made in another country, for safety, security, ethical and practical reasons.
And yet, every blog post I see, and almost every business/management/self-improvement book on the shelves, is acting as if the creation of these tangible, physical goods is something for the history books. I think the implicit argument is that all these “small”, “petty”, “trivial” issues can be handled by the masses in Indonesia or Uruguay or Baltimore. I’m not sure, because these issues aren’t even addressed, as if every writer takes it for granted that of course the shelves at the Kwik-E-Mart and Trader Joe’s and H&M are going to stocked, much like a 5 year old or a dog takes it for granted that their parents or owners will have food in the pantry.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to be employed or engaged in providing the basic neccesities of modern life. I want books, and magazines, and theater, and TV, and TheOnion.com, and revolutionary thought, and public intellectuals, and all the rest of the cake and circuses. But I’d like the big (and small) thinkers of business and technology and management to recognize that they want the basics as well. Shoving the hard realities and needs aside for an underclass to take care of probably isn’t going to work out too well for anyone. Just ask anyone who read The Time Machine, or saw Wall-E for that matter.