Small Town Talent

Small towns are generally trying to figure out how to get and keep leadership, promote entrepreneurship, innovation, etc.   Yet, all their “talent” leaves town and never really comes back to stay.  No one really seems to ask why though, they just simply sit and wait for some new people to come by then pass the buck onto them, whoever they may be.  Those of us in that position get frustrated and, well, leave too. Why?

Perhaps one thing for people in these small towns to consider is how (un)reliable they are; this even extends into life in university for those who leave but then come back.  I say this regarding three entirely separate cases of small, rural towns that I have had to deal with and one consistent problem in all of them: communication.  More specifically, the lack thereof.

For example: trying to contact one single individual through email, text messages and phone calls and still never getting any response after several days; this sort of culture is the antithesis to accomplishing anything or trying to make improvements which then limits these small towns, leads to frustration and moving away.

Another example: many times, when trying to put on an event of any sort, there is complaints of not many people coming or only the same people coming.  One thing one never really sees online in any format or physically throughout the town is advertisements for different things.  How is a newcomer or someone outside of the usual circle to know that there is a benefit dinner happening this Friday if it is not actually announced?  I must say, it is pretty amazing how many people turn out for something if signs are put up everywhere a month in advance of the event, in my experience anyway.  Also, the internet is a thing; small towns could leverage that a lot more than they generally do.

Next, some personal responsibility would help a lot.  I mean this on an individual basis and a societal one for these small towns.  Instead of simply complaining about how “the state/federal government does not send us any money to do x.” Try using the internet to find some grants for the project or, as is the case for older farming communities, recognize that money you are sitting on will not follow you to the grave and maybe spend some of it.  In a less offensive word: recognize that in order to get something out of an investment, you usually have to put something into it too.  Spend some time working on making the community a place you want to live, it will probably help convince other people to live there too.  Also, maybe, just maybe, release some farm land for a new farmer to buy and use, perhaps consider that the world has changed even if it is not easily visible in these towns, it has.  People want different things in life now and have different expectations and different types of jobs: figure out how to welcome those types of things and people may follow.  Responsibility, if cultivated and supported for all citizens in the town would help, in all of these small towns there is a small cadre of movers-and-shakers who are, essentially, trying to drag the rest of the several hundreds or thousands along.  That much effort for so few gains leads to burn-out, but, many hands makes light work, if you would take responsibility for your own community and for answering your phone and then carrying out whatever task you agree to, these small towns could make leaps and bounds.

These are just two of the major areas I have seen in my experience of small towns, it has been two of my own personal issues too partially stemming from growing up in such an environment.  If small town leadership and small town individuals would start working on trying to improve these two spots, I think it would greatly improve their ability to get/keep younger people who are able to start changes and actually improving the region(s) they are in.  But, this would take a level of commitment to self-improvement across individuals and the town; something not generally supported anymore in these areas.

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Reading Questions

I am currently reading The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, one of the more important political/economic treatises since World War II I think.  (It is certainly up there if not that high.)  In the book, Mr. Hayek is arguing against socialism of the era in the form of an entirely or mostly planned economy which he saw coming to power in England and already holding power in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist Russia.

Essentially, planned economies take away individual liberty according to his argument.  I am not here to analyze that part though. Instead, what if we are going towards a planned economy regardless of our politics through something that Hayek may not have foreseen?  The new thing is technology and this advent of big data and wearable technology etc.  We are slowly gaining the ability to get data on practically every moment of our days.  I do not think that Hayek foresaw such an occurrence while writing and I wonder what he would have to say.

In short: are we building ourselves into a planned society without even intending it?

Regardless of what we do economically/politically, technology is becoming wearable, mobile and ubiquitous.  Ubiquitous technology generally tends towards ubiquitous data as can be seen with our “Big Data” issue coming up and as the smart city movement gains momentum towards measuring everything.

The problem with all of this is it is data from measurable things only, technology cannot make value judgments it can only take in what it is told to take in and focus on that information in whatever measurable way it is told.  There are severe limitations in that.  This ability to change values was one of the strengths of money, an individual could use their money in ways that aligned with their individual values (thanks, Hayek!),  instead of being limited to what was deemed “worthy” money could be used in multiple different ways by different individuals because the money earned did not already have a value judgment built into it and was not limited in measuring like data is when it is being gathered. Technology and data, instead can only focus on view things and generally that information is used to increase “efficiency.”  So, the information gathered, especially in reference to time, can generally be used to increase productivity but it becomes harder to use it in other ways.

So, in essence, technology measures productivity and nothing else.

The problem is, as humans, sometimes the lack of productivity is the most productive thing to do.  Meditation as a contemporary example, the day of rest as a biblical one, sleep as a fact of life one. Also, productivity, as we all know is NOT necessarily quality.  Producing millions of cheap plastic chairs may be producing “more” in a measurable way but it is not the same as a craftsman finding wood, carving it and putting it together into a rocking chair on their own.  Money helps us show that difference through the different price tags I believe.  But, our data, as compared to time, would still probably find it more “efficient” to produce the plastic chairs instead and that would lead to a higher profit margin.  I would argue that, as technology becomes more ubiquitous, these sorts of value judgments are going to end up happening without us necessarily realizing it.  Meaning we could end up with a planned society based on efficiency without ever actually intending it.  Especially as we slowly let our human ability to decide value languish thanks to those decisions being made outside of ourselves.

I simply wonder, what does Hayek have to say in response to this?

Small Town Economics

As I spend more time in a small town and compare it to my experience(s) in cities and even just regions closer to larger population centers, I am starting to learn one of the primary problems in small towns: lack of competition.

I mean lack of competition in an individual sense.  There is no need for self-improvement or even, maintenance of quality in small towns for many positions just because there is no one else to take that place if it is an essential job.  For example: middle management of any business.  Once an individual gets into that sort of position in a business that stays stable within the community and can get comfortable, they really have no need to improve themselves or the business really.  No other business will likely move in due to it being prohibitively expensive to move in and start a new business and there are not many new candidates moving into town to cause competition in the field itself for promotions etc.  So, it becomes very easy to fall into a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” attitude about everything.  This hurts small towns most when it comes to leadership.

Having dynamic leadership is one of the best ways to promote expansion, development and improvement I think, having managers/mayors who are always willing to try new things and help those below them become more capable.  Dynamic leadership happens when non-dynamic individuals filter down/are limited in their promotion abilities because of competition or cannot get into higher levels due to a lack of initiative.

A mayor and/or board which is not dynamic, not curious and willing to look into new ideas and not really in competition because of no one else running for those elected positions ends up leaving a town stagnant.  The stagnant individuals essentially create a ceiling of potential and end up pushing those with more initiative, abilities or curiosity out and away (this tends to be associated with the younger generation) which then means that there are fewer opportunities which leads to even more people leaving essentially filtering down to those with the least amount of dynamism or initiative so that those who stay end up being the people who get up, go to work, come back and just sit in front of the television and doing nothing really at all with their spare time and becoming unhealthy and disconnected.

The question then becomes, how can small towns reverse this cycle now that it has generally started?  The obvious solution is to get more people coming to promote competition but, they need to be able to have a viable life there, which is very hard to do since it seems that most of the possible work in small towns is either healthcare or construction related, with the latter requiring driving where it could be more efficient to simply live closer to the worksite.  Thanks to cars, small towns are not self-sufficient anymore with small stores employing small amounts of people in the town to service everything unless they have some major industry which has yet to move away or is not mobile.  The problem with those industries is that if they could move they probably already have at this point and those that are not mobile tend to be seasonal (agriculture, waterways, tourism).   Seasonality does not make for a stable life, especially without being able to get land for oneself either.  The other job industry growing right now is technology.  Technology requires infrastructure which, sometimes, does not exist in small towns or it is not up to the requirements of the technology yet.  The only way to improve that infrastructure though would be through an increase in funding which would only happen if, instead of shrinking and aging, the population of small towns was growing and younger.

We come back to, how does one stop this cycle?  It seems that the most effective way would be for leadership to recognize its own failures – something that only happens through competition.  Not to mention, recognizing the problems, which is another major issue for most of the small towns I have seen; they simply cannot recognize that there is a fixable problem that could benefit the town often because, no one wants to change at this point and everyone is afraid of dynamism.  People want the same things that have worked for their entire lives to apply in the exact same way to everyone else and then magically everything will be dandy.  Quite an interesting world those people live in so, next time you’re listening to a small-town friend of yours complain maybe just ask them, what have they done to help their small town besides simply existing in it?

The Village Idiot

“It takes a village to raise an idiot.” I feel like I grew up hearing such a phrase.  I did some research (see: Google searched) the phrase and came across a book by Hillary Clinton and an attribution that the phrase was “It takes a village to raise a child,” not to raise an idiot.

I think we need to revisit these idioms for our own sake.  These generally tend to point towards a sentiment that a whole community is needed to help bring up good members of that community, it is not a single entity that does that work.  Yet, we continually focus on “education” in the sense of schools and universities as the inherent problem with everything.  It’s our education system’s fault that our world is the way it is, it’s our government’s fault the world is the way it is, it’s our education system that is creating inherent laziness in all of the young people in the world (I’ve grown up hearing complaints about the ‘younger generation’ my entire life), our education system is creating the school-to-prison pipeline, it’s our education system that keeps bad teachers in their jobs via unions, contracts, tenure, administration (pick your poison there).  Going off of all these complaints, it would seem that actually it is our education system’s job to raise children for the community and not anyone else’s, except maybe the parents.  Who, coincidentally, have been raised in a similar situation. Yet, people wonder why the bad parts keep continuing.  It seems that, though we’ve been tweaking the education system for a while, we have yet to see solid returns.  Maybe it is time for the village to re-examine itself instead of simply blaming the school within it.

To be clear, this is mostly pointed towards all those people who complain of “the younger generation.” The younger generation had to pick it up from somewhere and you cannot blame the unborn.  I’d like to say it is time for the village to think about what it has done in raising the child.

Sure you’ve put the child into an education system which does seem to have it’s own problems but, what happens to said child from 3:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m. when they return to the school during the week?  What about from 3:00 p.m. Friday until the following Monday or, that last day of school until the next school year? Say just a week day, that is 17 hours sure, ideally 8 or 9 of those will be sleeping but that still leaves 8 or 9 hours a day plus weekends where the child is not in school.  Sure, there may be after school programs, they may go until about 7 at night during the week that is still 12 or 13 hours in an unknown environment (and assuming any sort of after school program, which is a pretty big assumption I think).  Also, who has ever heard of a well-funded after-school program that is reasonably affordable to all members of a community?

But, what about sports, those are after school and have potential to be affordable.  Great, emphasize sports have every kid doing that, that will help with health right because everyone can be skilled at or at least play {insert favorite intense sport (football, basketball, track, volleyball, etc.)}.  Then again many kids may not like sports or the specific ones offered so, one way to keep them engaged and interested would be to give them awards for participation, another seemingly universally despised idea.  This then on top of families tending to focus on sporting events such as the SuperBowl, World Series, March Madness or whichever would seem to send the message that the most respected and honored individual(s) in society are the sports players.  Then one wonders why children are not focused on education and all dream of hitting the professional leagues but outside of that seem “lazy” or lacking initiative.  Or, for those who do not make it, they wonder why they will sit and watch sports all day on TV, keep updated on it via smart phones and generally not seem too heavily interested in much else, specifically, not interested in engaging in the community.

Where does one learn this emphasis?  Well, when school funding seems to put money first to sports equipment, teams etc. this would seem to show children that playing sports is more important than the teachers and an education.  Then, why do these schools seem to put this money first into the sports program?  Since that is the only thing it seems that parents care about or that people will donate to.  This would also point towards the higher importance of sports over an education and actual work to children too.

On top of this, the other thing pushed constantly is “leadership” in all its beautiful forms.  Leadership courses, leadership camps, university applications always looking for times the kid showed “leadership” any other extra-curricular claiming that the students involved get to show “leadership.” Seemingly this would show the student that they are all leaders and as such rules do not necessarily apply because they set them as leaders and as leaders they all get the be all-stars in the sports and should all get leadership positions in jobs.  Where does this emphasis come from? It would seem employers and those who help fund these “leadership” courses and then sign their children up in them.  Yet, it seems to surprise everyone who helped create such an environment that their children cannot play on a team well and do not want to work in a non-management position if they are not in the team.

Wait, no, it is all the media’s fault that our kids are the way they are.  Those hours not at school they are staring at a screen with sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, etc. etc. etc. It is only those kids who are not in sports, not in the leader camps that are causing the problems because they are plopped down in front of the TV/computer/screened-device and just get to watch it or play their violent video games.  Who is it that bought the video games?  Who is it that keeps watching TV and watching the shows that are questionable and keep viewership high for all those “problem-causing” programs?  Which person is it that actually pays those bills?  I feel fairly sure that it is not the child.  Plus, for those parents who cannot get a job that goes from 8-3 and cannot afford the sports or camps, I do not think one can remain mad at them that they end up having to leave their child unattended or only lightly attended while they keep trying to make ends meet.

It seems to me, that there is a point where the village must re-examine the messages it is sending to it’s newest and youngest members.  Perhaps that time has come, instead of blaming schools, media and simply complaining about the “younger generation.” The “older generation(s)” need to pick up some of their responsibilities as members of the community (village) and start participating in younger people’s lives and trying to provide an example of a good, ideal member of the village.  Help fund after-school programs that are not simply sports, turn off the TV maybe, simply do some volunteer work with children in non-sports related things.  What kind of world would we have if entire villages actually actively participated in trying to create a friendly environment for all children to learn, feel safe and grow up to be responsible citizens instead of leaving it to someone else?

It seems that maybe it is time for the “older” generation to take responsibility for its own role in raising the “younger” generation and for the “younger” to start trying to grow up outside of the world that had been made for them.

The Difference Between the Internet and a Walk

Earlier this week I brought up that apps are not necessarily the solution to every problem in our society.  I then went ahead and gave a description of two general types of society and which one apps and internet things are a part of, but I failed to go into a better explanation of why, so here is the beginning of that:

Let us look back at the idea of a vertical society, part of a vertical society is limiting the journey from point A to point B.  Cars, metro and if it was ever physically possible I guarantee it would be taken up–teleportation.  All of these things make it so that a person can go from one place (their home) to another place (their workplace on usual work days) with minimal time, effort and dealing with others.  Yes, one has to interact with others while driving or elbowing your way into the bus in the morning, but it is not the same as walking through a marketplace or walking through a park.  How often do you stop and enjoy the moment in any of these forms of transportation?  You listen to music or read a book probably on the bus, while driving you listen to the radio or focus on just not getting into a wreck, plus, mostly, you have a specific goal in mind and attempt to get to that goal in the shortest way possible.  The internet is just like this, only, you actually can teleport!

Think about it, one cannot go for a walk through the internet, there is no “public” space which one can explore and see what there is to see, you have to either be looking for something or know the actual end goal that you have.  You can end up in random places through say stumbleupon or something like that, but that is not randomly “strolling” through the internet.  That is a violent jumping all over to specific places, akin to being able to go from your room to the art museum, to the library, to the grocery store, to the police station and on and on without having to actually take a step.  This is how the internet and how I think computers work in general.

Computers are like this in a more complicated way and it becomes easier to approach computers through a different image, that of a conversation.  When you are having a great conversation with a friend of yours, stories are told, facts are shared among who knows what and you and your interlocutor randomly talk, no specific goal, just talk about whatever comes to mind and where ever you end up.  Computers, how I understand them, cannot handle this though, they cannot just go anywhere for no reason, there has to be a specific goal.  Solve this mathematical problem, execute this command, share this data and so on, a conversation between computers would be amazingly boring.  I imagine it would be like two people just sharing their current health status without anything else:

“I have a heart-rate currently of 60 beats per minute, my blood pressure is 120/80, current body temperature is 98.6 degrees Farenheit….” and the other responds with their information and then walk away and continue onto something else, preferably whatever their original end goal was.

Anyway, it appears that apps and computers and the internet is limited by this, the thing that I think we can begin to point at and say “this is part of being a human.”  It is as simple as taking a walk.  I use this in comparison to the teleportation through a city.  In going for a walk, you, as an individual have infinite possibilities every single moment on that walk.  You can continue to walk forward, you can turn left, right, make a 180 degree turn, a 90 degree turn, a 78.675 degree turn, you could literally stop and sit down, you can stop the enjoy the sun on your skin.  Transportation in a vertical society attempts to avoid this, there is no end goal in any of these things, they are simply being present in the moment (to use meditation language).  While going for a random walk through your neighborhood you have all of these options and more, you can also randomly see a friend of yours, a neighbor, an enemy, a person you’ve never seen before but decide at that moment you want to get to know better, you could see someone in need of help and give them that help, or not.  On this walk you also have the option of deciding you have somewhere to go, to a friend’s house, to the park, to get some groceries and you can immediately act upon that decision.  None of this is possible on computers or the internet.  Yes, you can change your mind but outside of canceling, you can only make the change after you have hit the end goal that you started off with.  It would be like if you decided to go to the library but half way there decided to stop at a cafe but you physically could get to that cafe until you have been to the library, or reset back at your starting point.  This is essentially what has to happen in apps and computers.  This is also the essential limitation of apps and computers and why they cannot be considered the best solution to every problem.

Hopefully this helps make something a little bit clearer.  If not, I hope it makes something more confusing and makes you stop and think some more.

There’s An App for That

So I just finished participating in an amazing leadership conference.  The name and other info I will not be sharing but, at the end of this conference the ten groups of students made pitches to three somewhat powerful people and these pitches were of ideas that would make our city better.  All of the ideas though were apps/websites or some combination thereof, which I find somewhat problematic.

Besides access problems, which people think can be solved by access to library computers and other public places with computers, the problem with apps, especially those to create a sense of community or connection, is that they do not actually work against the problem they are trying to solve.

What I mean is, we now live in what I will be calling a vertical society.  By a vertical society I mean a society in which public spaces are small and generally places to be avoided and as much as possible is cut off from public spaces as possible.  Think of all of the doors one has to pass through every single day, I know there are security and weather concerns too, but in a metaphorical sense, think of all of those doors.  Each one is open only to you and those who meet the same or similar requirements as you do.  I do not know for sure but say a library, is someone who is homeless allowed to actually step in without being herded out by security?  I am pretty sure this holds true for the university doors I step through every day.  The homeless individual does not meet the requirements of looking like a student or VIP and then gets shuffled out probably, back into the limited public space there is.  In short, in vertical cultures there is a clear line between private and public life and the various types of public life one can have.  Apps and websites do not actually fix this.  Instead, they operate within the confines of this type of society.

Apps and websites allows one to stay within their private life until they decide to go into a public place and meet with specific others to do something, in another policed, more private public space.  To put an image to it, one person lives on the 8th floor of an apartment building and is on their computer and gets in contact with a group of people who also live on various floors in various apartment buildings.  This group decides to get together to chat, so they go downstairs onto the street, the purely public space, meet at some pre-determined point and then proceed to a restaurant, cafe, bar, club, another apartment etc.  All of these are “public” yes but not purely public like the street is where one can bump into every single possible type of individual there is.  The only equivalent in a city might be a public park but that probably depends on the specific laws within the city.  Apps and websites are useful in this sort of situation in getting people to meet with each other and possibly form communities, but these non-spontaneous sorts of meetings are limited in various forms.

The first and probably most important is, it means one can avoid meeting people with different views from themselves.  Access to the internet has made everything customizable, including who you talk to, the main exception to that is family probably since you can avoid talking to you co-workers to an extent.  This customization though can cause problems I think, it allows for the extreme viewpoints who just screech at each other across the room instead of people being able to hold discussions.  This also weakens the sense of a need for public spaces which then allows stricter laws to be put into place thus weakening our rights of public assembly and putting marginalized groups into even harder situations.   I do not think apps and websites can actually fully solve this sort of a problem.  Instead, to deal with this will take a conscious decision by each individual and our society as a whole, to become a more horizontal society.

By horizontal society I do mean the opposite of a vertical society.  A horizontal society would have much less clearly defined private and public lives, have much larger and broader public spaces.  Life would be focused on the public life and lived mostly there, it would be like Ancient Greece I guess with the Agora.  Everyone and anyone can stroll around and end up there without being pushed out.  Things would happen spontaneously too, meetings, speeches, etc.  No, everyone would not sit in a circle and sing peace songs, but it be much harder for an individual to entirely customize their experience of their surroundings and friends.  You could actually end up speaking to someone you consider an enemy or opponent, in person, you would have to find some way to deal with the fact that they are another human standing in front of you.  It suddenly becomes a lot harder to act in some ways towards that opponent when you are forced to accept that they are a living, breathing human who also has a life I expect.

Apps and websites are great, do not get me wrong, I am not saying we need to step backwards technologically, I think we just need to be aware that technology is not the solution to everything, especially not human community.

Why the U.S. Will Never Be Original

The U.S.-Canada too probably- will never actually have original thought. There may be original ideas, or original technologies but there will be not ever be fundamentally new thought in the U.S  No philosophical “break-through” which will change how we view the world or consider our place in the world or how to function as humans.  This simply will not happen in the U.S. anymore.  It probably will not happen anywhere in the Western World at this point, but Europe still has a much bigger chance than the U.S.

Now, to explain why I think this since I cannot just make an unqualified claim like above without something:

The reason the U.S. will not ever create original thought is because of our opinions of activity and time.  In the U.S. a person should not ever be found alone and just sitting, one has to always be doing something, some sort of physical movement or something that could be seen as “progress”: smoking, walking somewhere, writing, reading, driving, talking to someone else, playing video games something just something to occupy your mind and body.  It is impossible to find people in the U.S. just observing the world in a park or sitting in a bar alone just pondering the world (it’s nearly impossible to find this anywhere now with smartphones overall too).  This lack of relaxation; lack of being “okay” to be by oneself, take slow strolls or just sit somewhere quiet and alone is one of the main differences between the U.S. and Europe that makes it impossible for the U.S. to create original thought.

In Europe, on the other hand, (or at least the parts of it I have experienced) it is still acceptable for one to take slow strolls, take one’s own time, sit in a bar or restaurant alone, sit on a park bench and observe the world, sit with friends for hours on end discussing whatever happens to come up in conversation.  It is acceptable for one to simply take time to think about everything and anything.  This is where original thought can, and most likely will, come from.  Just taking some alone time to walk and think about something is where new ideas come from, new ideas then are planted and can grow into new ways to see the world or even entirely new world.  These thoughts are, probably quite often, entirely superfluous though for someone from the U.S.

To make sure I am clear: I am not saying the U.S. will not and cannot create anything new, there are plenty new technologies, tools and things that come out of the U.S.  That is what the U.S. is good at-creating things, not thought.  In the U.S. since we are so busy running around, being busy and doing things the only sort of ideas that could be thought of would be “how to I make more money out of this,” “how do I make this better/faster,” overall: “how do I get more done?” these are questions you can ponder relatively quickly.  It is more of the idea of improving the wheel, or using it in new places; not reinventing or entirely removing the wheel from the world.  In order to make new thought one must be able to get rid of the wheel entirely: that takes time and a lot of thought which simply is not socially acceptable in the U.S.  but, so far, seems to still be acceptable in the parts of Europe I have seen.

As such, fundamentally new, original, unique and different thought simply will not be created in the U.S.  in the U.S. people are too busy improving upon everything to actually make something new.  It is sort of like constantly adding onto a house instead of tearing it all the way down and rebuilding the foundation first.  In Europe it is still socially acceptable for a person to take the time to think (hence, tear down the “house” of current thought), whereas that is and requires superfluous thought by U.S. standards.  That superfluous-ness is what is needed to get “out of the box” though to create something fundamentally new.