I've been working in and around rural American communities my whole life. My parents moved from Seattle to Albany Oregon when I was small, with the hopes of starting a mini-farm. About eight years later, we realized that the encroaching suburbia and half-acre wasn't really cutting it, so we moved waaay out east of nowhere to fourty acres, some goats, some donkeys, and the incarnation of all my inner woodsman's twelve-year-old dreams. Goldendale, population 3000, was one of those towns where everybody knows everybody, and you're not a "local" until your family has lived there for +100 years.
Small towns have many of their own struggles, but the greatest of all (in my experience) is the loss of generational memory. Agrarian-based communities, historically, stayed intact because of strong nuclear families, common work, and communal self-sufficiency. Generations stayed intact because they were united, generation to generation, by that commonality of family, work, and vision.
We've lost that as a culture. The gap between the generations continues to widen, becoming extremely apparent even between high-school classes. (Hearing high-schooler seniors talk about the "juniors" as if they are on a completely different cultural plane is an enlightening experience I wish on everyone.) We're no longer expected (or encouraged) to connect in the same tight, dependent way to our own immediate families. Each of us specializes in our own careers to the point that we are unable to relate in any real way to our peers work. And self-sufficiency – pfffft.
Rural communities experience this dramatically. As the gap between the generations widens, as we specialize in our fields of study and work, and as we lose touch with self-sufficiency and self-reliance, rural communties lose the very core of the culture they were built with. Towns are dying all over America, and from what I can see, it's a fairly direct result of the cultural rug being pulled out from under them.
None of this is disheartening to me. Our culture is changing dramatically, but I see that as more opportunity than anything. We are standing in a position to redefine what it means to live in community, and that position holds incredible intrigue and responsibility.
So the question really is: what can we do to build a new vision for rural culture? What can we do to build up families, build new visions for communal work, and re-aquire a sense of communal self-sufficiency, while operating inside of this ever-changing cultural tide?
Lately, I've been busy.
I currently run MUX, a local music venue in Richland Wa. We focus on regional and local independent music, producing between one and three shows a month. I've been learning a ton – not only about the music industry, booking, production, and promotion, but about myself.
Assumptions are essential for effective life-living and thing-building. You can't do any one thing without having some preconcieved idea about what you should do, or at least how you should learn to do that thing. However, assumptions are only healthy when they are constantly challenged in your own head.
For example: most MUX shows don't sell many presale tickets. We generally announce the show three weeks in advance, and offer cheaper presale tickets right away. One or two tickets will sell in the first two weeks, but the majority of the ticket sales will be in the last two days before the show. This is generally fine, aside from the fact that it's difficult to figure out how many people will show up ahead of time.
Two weeks ago, we put on an outdoor festival called TriFest, in connection with a local art/design/tech/entrepreneurship conference called TriConf. Ten bands (all regional medium-sized bands) played over the two nights of TriConf. Two-day wristbands were $35 presale, $40 day of show, and TriConf attendees received free wristbands. Leading up to the festival, wristband sales looked much the same – one or two wristbands sold in the first two weeks of promotion, and a couple more in the last week.
The first night of the show, almost nobody showed up. The attendees from TriConf trickled in and out, but a grand total of a dozen festival-goers made it out that night. It felt like an utter failure, and I didn't know why.
Later that night, I was taken aside by a good friend and fellow MUX teammate. He told me that he honestly felt that the ticket price had scared off a lot of folks, and that would account for the dissapointing turnout that night. This didn't come as a shock to me – I had worried about the ticket price – but I realized that my unchallenged assumptions about ticket sale patterns had prevented me from seeing that the price was too high, and people weren't going to come.
There's a good cliche out there: "you can't know what you don't know". Assumptions work off the worst side of that – you feel that you have a grasp on whatever's at hand, but left unchallenged, you're completely blind to any potential problems that your assumptions don't account for.
I'm seeking to break down that wall for myself. I need to be able to see the holes in my assumptions and fill them with the information that is already there, waiting for me to ask the right questions to discover it.
Here's my plan.
- start asking myself "what if" questions to find parts of my projects that haven't been considered, and then
- learn to find people who may have honest perspective on my projects and ask probing questions to gain that perspective myself.
- to learn to channel the "irrational" anxious feelings that come with new projects into constructive critiscism of my assumptions
- to document my failures and reference them often in relation to my current projects
In the end, we made the second night of TriFest free to all, and promoted the crap out of it that day, thanks to feedback and ideas from another member of the MUX team. By personally asking people to invite all their friends, writing a blog post on the MUX site about why we made the second night free, and pushing it out on all the interwubs, 300 people came to that night's show. That's great, but had I been able to understand how people percieved the ticket pricing ahead of time, the whole weekend could have been packed out, and I could have been selling tickets at greater than $0.
I'd crave your thoughts. How do you challenge your assumptions? Has hindsight enlightened your current planning process? What are some methods that you use to gain perspective when you are planning and executing your projects?
"...And we pray, not for new
earth or heaven, but to be quiet
in heart, and in eye clear.
What we need is here."
– Wendell Berry
We're really lucky bastards. Here in the comfy bubble of the tech world, there's practically no glass ceiling we won't eventually smash through. I've been blessed with a company I can believe in, amazing teammates, good health, and a wonderful place to live surrounded by pristine nature. I live a life filled with abundance, for which I am extremely grateful. If you ever catch me complaining, you have my permission to slap some sense into me.
I firmly believe that we cannot afford to become complacent in our position, but to use it to do the greatest good we can in the short time we have. As such, I am setting a personal bar for myself this Thanksgiving by giving $200 to a different cause each month. Here's the list I've got so far (If you know of a cause that you think should be on my list, please get in touch with me):
- Nov: charity: water
- Dec: World Vision Micro Loan
- Jan: Let's Respond
- Feb: Amazima
- Mar: Doctors Without Borders
- Apr: Not For Sale
I'd really like you to join me in this endeavor. If you do, please let me know, and I'll link you from this post.
Together, we can use our privileged position to do a little good in the world.
So, here it goes.
A couple things happened at Realtime Conf that sparked my move to the #indieweb. One of them was a talk given by Amber Case called "The Open Web and the Opportunity of Now". You need to simply sit down and watch it, but the tl;dr goes like "get out there, use what's already been written, own your data, and build cool things".
As soon as I heard that talk, I knew I needed to sit down and finally get my online presence wrangled together, starting with my personal blog. My persona online has been growing and becoming more fragmented very rapidly, which, despite the convenience of all those accounts and services, still left me feeling unsettled and uneasy. So far I've:
- moved this blog off of tumblr
- quit facebook
- downloaded tons of data from many of my social sites, and
- figured out a plan for finally lassoing my persona into one place, ike.io.
The second thing that started this 'homesteading' itch (have you watched the talk yet?), was more of a nagging zeitgeist feeling. I haven't nailed it down, but I have this notion that we're embarking on something big right now. I think we'd better buckle up.
After putting it off for a long, long time, I have finally bitten the bullet and will start my obligatory personal tech blog.
The signal/noise ratio is impressively high out there on the interwebs, so I hope to hold a laser focus on valuable, personal editorial content here.
Life’s too short for bad blogs.