Maelstrom

April 3, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Society, Web

My interests often have me straddling different worlds, offering perspectives that if not unique, are at least interesting.  Or, at least my perspectives seem interesting to me.  I know someone who was asked by his professor, “Are you, perhaps, the most interesting person that you know?”  I seem to experience that same ebullient narcissism.  Hopefully, it grows more innocent with time.

In grammar school I was a science nut.  I was 11 when my mom’s mental illness required her institutionalization.  My interests veered away from science toward art and psychology as I sought to understand the whys instead of the hows.  Looping back thirty years later, I find both science and the less tangible enthralling.

Nights and weekends, I spend much of my time at meetings, emailing and on the phone talking with activists and organizers across the country.  I read evolutionary theory works at night before I go to sleep, writing when I awaken around 6:00 a.m.  During the day, I run my web design and development business.  These three things–organizing, theorizing and managing a business–have achieved a rhythm that feels pretty right.  The juxtaposition of the three offers interesting, overlapping views.

To observe society free falling into the Vast Depression and to also observe the great horizontalization of our culture is a daily exercise in awe.  At the Net Tuesday meeting, in a discussion of young technologists working for social change, I shared that I observed that web 2.0 tools were indeed having a profound impact.  In January Facebook-driven Gaza demonstrations were pulling young protesters into the streets in numbers that no one was expecting.  In the new year, spontaneous Proposition 8 protests were still erupting around Facebook events.  Yet, working with almost 300 local businesses, talking with mostly the owners of small local firms, it’s not clear to me how Facebook, My Space, Twitter and Youtube can help these businesses survive.  More and more often I’m being paid in gift certificates.  A Chinese restaurant owner brought me in yesterday to say he just couldn’t pay the bill.  I left with certificates.

More and more clients are looking for ways to reduce their bills, find relatives to take over their sites or they are just going out of business.  I started out in 1978 as a free lance commercial artist and graphic designer serving local stores.  I’ve been through other recessions while serving storefront firms, and I noted that things got really bad when the recession was almost over.  At the point when shops did not renew their lease, they were usually so far behind in paying their bills that they disappeared with all those bills unpaid.

This “recession” won’t be almost over soon.  This downturn may also be unique in that the cost of leases may plummet when store owners come to the point of deciding whether to continue or not.  I’m hunkering down, preparing for the cascade of store disappearances to come at the end of this year and the beginning of next.

At the Net Tuesday meeting, one technologist made a particularly interesting suggestion.  The gentleman suggested that if a firm were going to establish an online identity through the various social networking avenues, it should use the owner’s name and persona.  That owner should make his interface with the online community personal.  It should not be a firm representative, or a mascot, but the owner that is in communication through his firm.  Someone could be hired to conduct the details but in the owner’s voice.

That works for me.  It seems a satisfactory integration of web 2.0 tools with small local business as these tools are being tested by nonprofits, organizers and activists.  This seems like a satisfactory bridge between the new tools that are horizontalizing society and where these tools can intervene to help support small business survive the toppling economy.

It feels to me I work in the center of this maelstrom.  I’m so often working in two or more different areas that it’s easy to feel in the crossroads.  Of course, we’re all in the middle of this storm.


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