When I was little, I wanted to be a farmer. I remember this because I distinctly recall throwing a penny into the Millcreek Mall fountain (right outside JCPenney) when I was eight and wishing that I would grow up to be a farmer. I liked grass, and the Playskool farm seemed pretty cool.
At some point, I realized being a real farmer would involve a lot of hard work, so I ruled it out.
Later, I wanted to be a chef. Then, in high school, I wanted to be a comic book artist. And in college, I split my studies between becoming an animator or a filmmaker.
The one thing all of those jobs had in common? They were all about producing something.
Today, I get paid to analyze market trends. (Eight year-old me never saw that coming.)
Granted, I do this for a company that produces consumer goods, so I’m tangentially connected to the manufacturing industry. But I don’t get paid to make anything. Not anything physical, anyway.
Not anything real.
And, most likely, neither do you.
When Did We Become a Nation of Ghosts?
We used to be a nation of makers. Now we’re a nation of marketers.
We used to sell tangible products. Now we sell abstract services.
We used to work for brands. Now we are brands.
When someone asks me what I do for a living, I find creative ways to answer. The truth is, I work in marketing, but I want to be a maker. I just haven’t figured out how to make something for a living yet.
The vast majority of “entrepreneurs” and “freelancers” I meet are people who offer invented, abstract, meaningless services at inflated rates so they won’t have to work very hard. The ones who do work hard are endless self-promoters and self-congratulators who confuse output with value, but because they bleat the loudest, they get heard, and then they get hired. What they get hired to do, I’m still not entirely sure; I’m not sure they know either. And if they can explain it, it’s bound to come wrapped in buzzwords.
What’s more rare is to find someone who makes a living by selling a product, or a tangible service — something that requires a physical action be completed, rather than a digital file be downloaded. I don’t think this is because no one needs anything concrete; I just don’t think as many people have the skills or the interest in producing something real.
We Used to Know How to Do Things. Now We Just Know How to Google.
It disturbs me that I don’t feel like I know as much as I used to. When I was growing up I read constantly and watched far too much TV, but I remembered large amounts of what I took in. Now I surf the web and retain very little. I don’t have to; I can just Google. I don’t even have to remember the name of the page I was reading; my browser does it for me.
I don’t know anyone’s phone number. I don’t know very much that I’d feel comfortable being quoted on, even in a casual conversation, because most of the facts and figures I do recall are vague and hazy. I preface most anecdotes with “I read somewhere” or “Did you know that something like…” If I had to take the GED tomorrow, I’d probably fail.
What am I supposed to teach my kids [when I have them]?
When did the concrete become less valuable than the abstract?
When did we decide that life coaching and corporate storytelling were viable careers?
I’m not sure (but I could probably Google it).
Did You Get Your Boy Scout Badge in Thought Leadership Yet?
Maybe this is all cyclical. Maybe prior generations went through this same ebb and flow of goods versus services, and physical versus ethereal. (Heaven knows the Catholic church made a mint selling sin erasers for centuries until Martin Luther disrupted their market…)
And maybe we don’t need to be a nation where everyone knows how to gut a fish, raise a barn, and sail by the stars. Cool skills, bro, but we’re forever headed forward [until the grid fails], so the modern rise of “soft skills” isn’t entirely useless no matter how arbitrary they may seem to be.
But I do wonder if my weakness for the minor digital gratification of a retweet at the expense of a major creative investment in something epic isn’t more than a byproduct of this immediate digital feedback being suddenly available.
I wonder if we all make less simply because we don’t think making is what matters anymore.
If that’s the case, eight year-old me would be so disappointed.