Can we ever stop the march of the Neanderthals?

Update January 19, 2013: I wrote this post three years ago. And just, if not more appriopriate today than then. Naively so I thought that maybe by 2014 things might be different. Maybe in some respects they are. A new generation is gaining more of a foothold in the world (For the better I believe). But at the same time, the old guard of attitudes, those resident in the ‘ivory towers’ of materialism are digging in deeper … reminiscent of siege of the Civil War battle Vicksburg.

Yesterday (February 21, 2011) I commented on a provocative blog post by my friend Greg Rader, “The Future of Status – Conspicuous Production.”

Imagine if there was no money and no things to buy. How would you show the world your worth? How would you show yourself?

Would your value lie in the number of friends you have – physical or electronic? Would it lie in the quality and depth or your relationships with these friends (kind of an esoteric three-dimensional assessment)? Maybe it would lie in the number pieces of art you produced, or books and articles you’ve written.

Or better yet … what about the number of nebulous karma points you’ve accumulated by doing random acts of good? Haven’t we reached a point on Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ where we can at least flirt with self actualization?

Over your last couple posts, I think you’ve been us leading to this. It’s obvious, the standard societal measurement of wealth and worth just isn’t cutting it for you. I join you brother.

Maybe this is the first step – discontent. Only then we can find our own “store of value.” and from there truly maximize it’s worth. Maybe this is what I mean when I talk about “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” Thanks for pointing me the way.

I viewed the focus of Greg’s piece as: “Isn’t there a way of presenting our value to world other than just through the money we make and our consumption habits?” As you can tell from my comment above – it’s a topic that’s been on my mind also.

Recently, in light of the sky-high valuations of several dotcom 2.0 stocks, such as Facebook, Groupon and Twitter, this matter seems to be especially relevant. Recent investments have Facebook worth $52 billion and Twitter at $10 billion, while Groupon recently turned down a $6 billion offer from Google.

But I ask you … on what are the values based. In the first two it’s their ability to act as advertising platforms, and Groupon is worth what it can take as a cut of the pie. Isn’t there more though … more than just advertising, more than just a vehicle to accommodate more and more consumption. God I hope so.

Let’s put Groupon aside, they are what they are – a group buying coupon service … nothing more, nothing less. Eventually they will fall prey to another ‘new and improved’ version of the same.

But Facebook and Twitter are different. To label then as just advertising platforms is to vastly understate what they really are – what they’re really worth. One needs to look no further back than one month. Only thirty days ago the political environment in the Middle East was much the same as it’s been for the last thirty years. No longer. Tunisia is liberated. Egypt is liberated (well kinda). Libya will be in a matter a days, and whoever is next is anyone’s guess.

While Facebook and Twitter didn’t overthrow these dictatorships … they played an integral role. They facilitated strategic and tactical communication that was on the level of a sophisticated military sorte, only performed primarily by young civilians. These social networks provided something that wasn’t there before … coordination. The results to this point have been the liberation tens of billions of dollars and ten millions of people, people who now have the prospect of governing themselves and having a say in their future.

What’s that worth?

Have you evolved?

How can you put a monetary value on person’s freedom? How can you say in dollars and cents what it’s worth to know you have something to get up for in the morning, to know that just maybe your children might just have a better life than you … a life you could only dream of.

Why does everything have to be based on money and what we spend it on. Just because you drive a Mercedes 450SL and I drive a Ford Taurus – does that make you worth more than me. I could make a case on the contrary. We focus so much on our children making sure they go to college and get a job that pays a lot of money. How many us even discuss any other options – any other means of worth? This valuation system seems Neanderthal in the light of what’s happening in the world these days.

I have been there and done it. I’ve had the nice car, the apartment on the water, the original art on walls. But it sure wasn’t “the be all end all.” The car’s gone (well,not a Mercedes – didn’t have one of those), the apartment gone and my daughter has the art. The memories are good, but now it time to move on.

It’s like the pursuit of possessions had put me in a cloud. I had other pursuits, but the almighty dollar seemed to reign supreme. No longer.

My valuation lies not in my financial net worth, but rather in what Greg says, “my conspicuous production” and what results from it. Production can be anything. It could this blog post. It could be the comments that result from it. And as I said in my comment above, it could be in the karma points I accumulate by doing good things. So here it is, here is my new definition of “my value:”

My value is the sum total of all positive synaptic connections I have a role in creating, both in myself and in others. In other words, the more I can get people thinking in ways they wouldn’t otherwise think in – and correspondingly, act in ways that benefit themselves and others … the more I’m worth.

There you have it.

Now it’s time to pick up my hands … my knuckles are bloody.

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And if you like this … please Tweet it and follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg

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2 comments

  1. Even then, the crowd in Tahrir and elsewhere was multigenerational, although the older folks on the non-Brotherhood populist sides tended to avoid cameras for canny historical reasons. Facebook and Twitter, yes, but without Tor, the Arab Spring activists would have likely been traced to their mobiles or apartments — arrested, and tortured, jailed and/or killed. Tor was funded by the US and EU government and NGO grants as well as donations from across the world, as a US nonprofit (I was the founding execdir).

    We do not “value” a nonprofit, any more than we seem to value the contributions of activists and volunteers. We may give them lip service in this society, but it’s often of that same bitter tang that we give the disabled when they achieve the heroic against odds. It’s not a healthy admiration of peers. I often found that those who found I had had a successful career as an Inc5000 exec treated my executive director position — of a world-changing, incredibly innovative nonprofit — as slumming, just because I could not draw equity from the work. This somehow implied eccentricity, naivety, or brain damage.

    Altruism and devotion to the greater good could fall under any of those three.

    I of course strongly disagree. But I guess I am just an old fashioned digital native.

    1. Thanks for the comment Shava. Living a life contrary to the socially accepted norm (not striving for maximum financial gain) will be looked at as lesser, at least in the near future. But the point of this post is to not look to others for acceptance (whoever hard that may be).

      So what if the CEOs don’t see you as an equal. It’s their loss, not yours. They’re the ones who haven’t evolved.

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