As part job-seeker in education, part independent scholar, part freelancer, and with a focus on the makings of identity and the interplay between happiness and ecology, I have a particular fascination with the role that location plays. Increasingly, it’s been going in two ways at once:
On the one hand, there continues to be a noton of its importance. “Geography is destiny” sometimes still rings true, with the influence of cultural background, living conditions wherever you happened to be born, and chances that different places have to offer. Not least, there is some continuing influence in economics. If you want to be an entrepreneur, for example, the USA continue to offer a more united market than Europe/the EU, and even selling overseas can be rather too much of a hassle for a small business.
And, of course – as this is what these writings of mine are all about – there is a strong interplay between your geographical location and your cultural, social and ecological locatedness within different networks of relationships…
On the other hand, there is all that talk of the flat world, a drive towards location-independence, active “geo-arbitrage” in which location is important for the advantages it can bring, but you yourself have to be independent of any single one of them in order to use those advantages, the “global war for talent” – and intense competition between talent where it’s not enough anymore to be good locally, you have to be outstanding globally (or do you?)…
Oh, how the times are changing…
Obviously, we like to focus on these changes in order to give them a better spin, or at least explain why thee times of ours are oh-so-different and special. The new is still the exciting and the dangerous, acceleration the drug of the 20th+ century, and what better than to say that both come together in current rates of change.
Once you look a bit deeper, it becomes apparent that only a few things have really changed.
Yes, if you trade enough of a volume that shipping costs are just a small part of the equation, and better yet if you have a product that can be delivered digitally, location is pretty much a concept of no importance. You can be wherever you want to be and still get your product out there, at least as long as the world wide web is available for your communication, organization, and sales.
Business in the cloud, feet in the sand.
The people who are the loudest about the chances an individual gains from that tend to be the ones with the least substance, however – or rather, the most virtual product. Those who make a “product” that is only their writings, so that being somewhere else is meant to show how great the chances of virtualizing your business are, and make these people – as a personal brand – more interesting and valuable again. It is a very peculiar product they peddle, though.
Same as with multinational corporations, though, they even compete globally. So, if you want to be successful as an individual, you better have the best proposition for your clients. In part, you simply compete on price, though. Virtual services can be done by an Indian in a cyber cafe in Calcutta just as well as by an American in New York – but also have to be offered at a similar ratio of value and quality. Unless you are proven best, and the client wants that and not just best enough at lowest price, you better be willing to earn like an Indian.
The only way out? To be better – or at least say you are.
What cyber-businesses also mean is that your branding and marketing better be excellent. Or actually, what it means is that if you go viral, so to speak, ever more attention may go to you, from around the world, making your light grow ever brighter – and suck the oxygen out of the room for everyone else. That’s the irony of all the “live independently, make your money online”-people who write just about that and make it their business: they present their success as proof that you can be successful, too – but it really makes it more difficult for all the others who want to compete in just the same playing field. There’s a reason the vast majority of them are Americans, for the cultural and linguistic market it offers (more on that in a forthcoming post).
Better find your own niche – but that will not be known yet, if to be truly new, so there will be no attention going there (at least yet). Tough call. Better promise the stars, attention spans are short.
And so, most of us look for “normal” work, stay and try to be happy with what we have, where we are, or go in search of greener pastures, whether through force or by choice. Not so different from how it’s always been.
I wonder, though, if it isn’t really a stronger, renewed and active localization – not of being found as much as finding and making ourselves a part of our locality, our community – that we could really use. And there are ways in which these are strong and getting stronger, too…