The Unexpected Joy of Living Local

We hear a lot about how we should “buy local”.    And it is good advice, but for most of us it is like flossing before bedtime and testing the smoke detector in your house monthly. We support it in theory, but don’t really do it. Depending on what we want, there isn’t even a local alternative available most of the time. But I’ve recently had a couple of opportunities to disengage from Big Box World and have found them truly satisfying.

I recently de-banked, from the large soulless regional conglomerate bank to a smaller credit union. Changing banks is kind of a minor pain in the ass for most of us, and it is designed to be that way. My new credit union is filled with real people who say hello to me when I walk in, and not a revolving wheel of fresh-out-of-college new hires who are having to simultaneously work 3 drive-in lanes, the teller line, and answer the phone when it rings.

There is a little too much distraction there for people that I’d rather have paying attention to the task at hand, mainly me and my financial life. The person who closed my account couldn’t have cared less. I think it was a person, it could have been one of those Audioanimatronic people, like the attractions at Disneyland….it’s personality seemed programmed.

I also recently purchased a new camera. Having had a less-than-stellar Big Box Retailer experience in purchasing the very computer I write this on, I decided to go to what is certainly almost an anachronism in our time, at least in my neck of the woods. A CAMERA store. That’s it…just cameras and video and related supplies. Not computers, TV’s, washing machines, and groceries. Just camera geeks.

I was able to ask questions of someone who actually knew the answers, who waited on just little ol’ me. My knowledge of digital cameras and the associated memory cards and accessories is about 5 years old, so I needed a knowledge upgrade as well. After a pleasant experience, I picked out my camera, got a voucher for some free classes, got the whole thing packaged up and handed to me with thanks, and a reminder that I didn’t need to fill out those pesky warranty cards, they did that for me, and it came with an extended two year warranty!

Pleased for once at having had a positive experience when it came to purchasing a piece of electronics, I headed over to pick up some necessary grub. Unfortunately, since there isn’t an organic farm around when you need one, I went to Costco (a place I do love, I have to admit!)

Needless to say, the same camera was there, and about 20 bucks cheaper. For about a second, I felt like an idiot….I should have known!  But I quickly composed myself, when I realized that even as broke as I am, what the hell is 20 bucks?  I felt like I bought a LUXURY!  When you go to Big Box World, it’s just another piece of electronic crap.  Plus, I supported a local business that employs guys that actually like to talk about cameras.  Win-win, in my opinion.

I’m not the world’s biggest consumer, but now I’m on a kick to support as many WELL-RUN local businesses as I can!  It truly does feel better to get treated better!   I doubt I’ll be able to pull my wallet from the maw of No Customer Service Greedy Retail entirely, but it’s a start.

And these days you have to celebrate the small victories……

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Among the missing…..

One of my favorite blogs just shut down, or went “private”, I should say.  Which one isn’t important, what’s important is that one more voice has apparently been shouted down by the hive-mind of the Internet.

We’ve been blessed with the most powerful communication medium in history, yet instead of open and honest dialogue we’re seeing it reduced to flame wars, comment trolls, and the like.  The more we reveal the more we seem to fan the flames of the haters.  Even though I never met this particular blogger, and only exchanged a few short emails with them, I feel like a human voice has been silenced, just because we can’t learn how to behave.

A lot is being made of how there are no more gatekeepers for media anymore, and the wonderful new freedom of expression this is supposed to usher in.  We ARE the gatekeepers, introducing mob rule to the dissemination of ideas and opinions.  I can’t help but notice that the generalized anger our society exhibits today seemed to grow simultaneously with the online world.  The part I have a hard time wrapping my head around is that so much of it is not done out of an honest difference of opinion, but simply to be mean for the thrill and attention of being mean.

On a similar note, writer Joe Bageant has died.  This post of his is probably one of his best.

A Million Pounds of Words

Last year, I found a great deal on books.  A used-book dealer had an entire warehouse of books they had intended on doing something with, but they evidently skipped on the warehouse rent.   So the owner of the building sold off all the inventory – a buck a book, .50 for a paperback.

This was really a treasure trove for a bibliophile like myself!   There was a better selection of books than just about any of the local retailers had, and you could pick up books for a dollar that my local Barnes & Noble was still selling for full price!   This deal lasted about 6 months before finally petering out.

I picked up books by the box full, and have winnowed down the read pile.  While digging through the treasures there, I remember thinking about all the authors, all the words and ideas, just laying around now, basically for salvage value.  Some had obviously been bestsellers, others were old and obscure, but it was a graveyard of dead words.

I was struck by a similar thought today while expanding my blog reading a little bit.  Even though the words online have no weight (well, I suppose on some atomic level data does!), how many kajillions of words are strung out across cyberspace, about every conceivable topic known to mankind.  And here I am adding more!

And what really becomes of our words?  Do they make a difference?  I’m starting to wonder if words have any power any more.

When books were a relative rarity due to their expense, and there wasn’t the mass media of today, information as relayed by the written word was probably more valuable.  I’m wondering if ideas didn’t have more gravity, since they were harder to communicate.

Compare that to today, in which we are awash in words and ideas, available with the movement of a mouse.  And what do we have to show for our fancy book-learnin’?

We largely seem to be making the same mistakes the ancients did, with regards to greed, war, and other human foibles.  We are as easily fooled as the most primitive people, it just takes a little more tech to fool us.  We pretty much enact the rituals of our tribe, just like we did eons ago- the tribe is just more mobile and comfortable.

I’m interested in the written word’s power to inspire, communicate, and educate.  But when words become as numerous as the grains of sand on a beach, do they lose their power?

It’s Not New, It’s Just Cheaper and Easier

John over at Full Bleed Arts Marketing has a post that made me think.  With all the tools at our disposal today, we seem to be more internally focused than ever!  Maybe the fact that we now interact so much digitally means that we’ve lost the ability to think about humans being on the end of our messages.

Sales and marketing, for all the hype, are in my opinion the hardest to technologically leverage – because it depends on good ol’ human nature.  And that hasn’t changed since “the conversation” was scrawled on a cave wall.  Whether you are a “drummer” in the 1880’s hopping the next train to call on the local dry goods merchant or the most Facebooked and Twittered “social media expert”, persuasion and communication is still your stock in trade.   We just do it with a button push instead of a two-day train ride now.

I remember being in a sales position years ago, back when trade shows and that kind of marketing was the norm.  Going to each one was a gamble.  The costs were usually outrageous, and based on the show’s draw.  You were literally priced out of the market on the bigger well-attended shows, unless you could really convert your contacts at the show to sales.  If all you did was stand there and collect business cards without making some kind of human connection, any follow-up contact after the show was pretty much wasted.

I think the same applies today to the newer tools.  My relatively brief Twitter experience really only garnered me a bunch of impersonal link-blasts.  Most of the email lists I have subscribed to, or documents I’ve been able to download from someone’s site or blog have been pretty generic, hoping to cast the net as wide as possible.  Most of it is just rehashes of rehashed information.  It is almost as if our ability to broadcast our message easily and for free has made us make the message more impersonal.

You’ve still got to connect, human to human.  And the principles for doing that have never changed, and never will.  It’s the one part of the world that will never be quantified, no matter how many databases are at our disposal.

Whatever happened to Plan B?

You don’t have to look too closely at most of our troubles these days to see that a lot of them are caused by our own technological triumphalism and inability to force ourselves to do a little old good-fashioned negative thinking.   In just about every sphere of advanced human endeavor, every so often we get our ass handed to us, to use an old phrase.

Reactors are melting down, because the risk matrix stopped a few feet short on just how high a tsunami wave COULD be.  Suddenly an entire region rises up to overthrow their dictatorial regimes and we don’t quite know what to do – this scenario wasn’t in the briefing papers.  Even on a relatively minor scale, I was just reading about a new mobile app called Color, which just raised 41 MILLION dollars in funding from the hip VC crowd, even though it doesn’t work, they have no customers, and their advertising model is suspect.  Not to mention I can’t even understand what it is supposed to do well enough to explain it to you here.

It gives you a little pause the next time you have to start making some plans.  Not that you should paralyze yourself with analysis, but you should spend a little time on the downside.  It’s one of the things I’ve come to appreciate about my Navy experience.

On a U. S. Navy ship, we pretty much expected things to go to hell.  You could count on getting hit, and if you got hit, there was going to be a lot of nastiness to deal with in terms of fire, flooding, and general mayhem.  So you figured out what the hell you were going to do in advance.  If the fire main lost pressure, you’d better throw a hose over the side and rig pumps.  If the fire main was broken,  you’d better jumper it with firehoses.  And you’d better set the stuff you MIGHT need close to where you’ll need it and make sure it is clearly marked and maintained.

One of the strange things I noticed when I entered the business world as a civilian is that there is absolutely no tolerance for anything except a Pollyanna view of things.  As you sit in a conference room with some mid-level functionary spinning out their grandiose plans, heaven forbid you should raise any questions about what we should do “if”.  What if sales don’t grow by the forecast amount?  What if there’s a delay from the vendor? What if the server goes down?  What if the tsunami wave is higher than 18 feet?

Bring up any other such questions and you’ll get the “look” from the individual selling you their rosy view of the future.  You’ll be branded as not being a “team player”.  You’ve got an attitude problem.   We want you to think outside the box, but only on the “upside” of the box.

Maybe it’s time we stopped the magical thinking and learned to embrace our dark side.  There’s nothing wrong with a realistic assessment of risks.  Picture the worst case scenario you can possibly imagine, figure out what you are going to do to survive it,  and then plunge ahead.  If one assumption turns out to be wrong or inaccurate, what fork in the road do I take?  And when the circumstances call for switching to Plan B, throw the switch.

And if someone tells you to Think Positively, ask “What are you trying to sell me”?

Leaving Preservation Hall

Had an experience today that everyone should have from time to time, and even though it wasn’t really fun or exciting, it made me think.

I took a family member in for a medical procedure and ended up waiting for them at the gastroenterology center.  People are there to have their innards checked out, and it is generally not just for the hell of it.  It usually means you’ve had or are currently worried about having some rather severe problems.

To pass the time, I was watching the little “canned” CNN Health channel that was playing on the TV there.  Dr. Sanjay Gupta was covering all the latest medical breakthroughs with the occasional human interest story – pretty light fare as usual from the mass media.

One of the stories that they had was about the growing number of centenarians we are seeing.  They featured a 101 year old man who didn’t look a day over 75, spry, standing up straight, and an expert woodcarver, which he credited with keeping him going.  He had all his energy and was truly inspirational.

I guess he was featured to show us how great it is going to be when all this medical technology extends our lifespan.  But then I looked around the waiting room and was jarred back to reality.

The fact is most of us aren’t going to see 100.  This guy’s peculiar genetics ( he had a family history of living a long time) are not the norm.  The people around me are.  No matter how much you exercise and do all the other things Dr. Sanjay wants us to do, you are probably not going to be much in control of how long you are around.  And to see folks at the center who’s lives now are mainly devoted to shuttling between medical treatments isn’t exactly the “golden years” nirvana promised by Big Pharm.

I’m over the hill enough to realize that I’m not going to be around forever.  Not sure I want to be.  But it is worth saying hello to the Grim Reaper every so often just to remind yourself that he’s sitting there, probably watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta as well.   You’ll be shaking his hand someday, like it or not.

The thought that struck me was – what are we saving ourselves for?  When you think of how much of life we try to hoard away and how we try to preserve some illusion of security, when you roll the clock forward 20 or 30 years you don’t have to be a philosopher to see that you should leave it all on the field, so to speak.  In the end there’s nothing, so make sure you arrive with a smile on your face and empty hands.

Quit that crappy job.  Buy that motorcycle.  Ask that person out for a drink.  Someday you’re not going to be able to, and how stupid are  you gonna feel then?

My patient was just there for a follow-up.  We went through the scary stuff 3 years ago, so all is good now.  But even if you aren’t sick, you should visit one of these facilities about once a year.  Sit there and get a good feel for what the end game looks like.  Then go out and do all the things you keep talking yourself out of.

I checked back in….

with Ev Bogue…..I guess I was just curious as to what phase he was into next.   He ran an interesting blog, and I guess I feel I owe him the occasional read, since I wouldn’t have known about some of the blogs I follow if I hadn’t linked from there.  Like a lot of people, I de-bookmarked at about the time he went into his Augmented Humanity spiel.  I have to admit I did enjoy the last post I read of his about the future of blogging, it appears he has rejoined us back here on Planet Earth and I was actually able to understand the bulk of what he was getting at!

I take my hat off to talent, and Ev is one great copywriter.  When you read really good advertising copy, you don’t know you’re being sold.  Ev is getting a little heavy-handed with some of his “takeaway” marketing – get this NOW before it disappears FOREVER!    He also wants you to know his stuff isn’t for everyone, it’s for the EXCLUSIVE group of his readers who are interested in “exploring this edge”, which I think is a term he glommed on to from Gwen Bell.  I hopped over to her blog once, but it seems to be in Twitterese and I didn’t understand much of it.  She seems to like to use the term “working the edge” a lot though.

Speaking of Twitter, I am just coming off a two-week Twitter experiment, so I can now truly say I still don’t get it.  It is an incredible tool if you have something to market, you can blast your message out like a carnival barker.  But I don’t understand why real people would subscribe to it.  It’s like watching a TV channel that is all commercials!  Rest assured, however, that once I have something to sell I’ll be tweeting away!  Who ever thought that advertising would become the literature of our day!