As an “intellectual going public,” I appear a bit too aloof for some people – but aloofness is necessary to have the distance it takes to see connections hidden by what’s (supposedly) just normal. Thus, even as I enjoy it once I get into talking with people (sometimes, only too much so), I like to hold my distance, and don’t seem to be a person who’d call for the importance of community.
Yet, especially as many still think that location is – or should be (made) – unimportant, that you can nowadays live by yourself, create an entrepreneurial lifestyle in which you sell to the whole world, there is a strong case to be made for localizing, for being in and of particular places. In different ways from how it is often conceived, though.
There are two different directions this is taking, two directions which seem mutually exclusive, but exist side-by-side: the world removed from all that is virtual and even quite outside many other “globalized” connections, and the domain beyond social networks, jacked-in – but still human.
People like me and probably you who is reading this now are only too connected. We may have Facebook friends around the world, like-minded people with whom we interact, who are far away from our home towns – we ourselves may be living in countries other than those of our birth.
In all the fascination with global citizenry and connections, we often overlook that many – or actually, most – people don’t live like that. The relevant friends are still going to be those in real life, jobs are still predominantly bound to certain locations. A local repairman or teacher can’t be outsourced, live musicians have to play at a venue, farmers need their land. And given how important office friendships are to many a person, it may be for the better.
The matter becomes even more interesting when looking at what’s happening with offers that are, at heart, location-independent.
Yes, there are those for whom it works. Offering (e-)books and online courses, doing SEO and designing websites, having an online sales company – it does not exactly require that you are in one particular place.
Yet, we ourselves tend to write in just one language, and may fail to acknowledge that we actually talk to a very special audience. Thanks to the wide use of English and the connections through the internet, you do probably have followers and customers in various places – but not everywhere.
There are differences even between the middle classes of Europe and the USA. Indeed, there are differences within them. Paying off your credit card debt, for example, is not usually such an issue in Europe…
Furthermore, ‘mere’ online sales mean that you enter the skewed (attention-based) competition there. Meanwhile, people – such as, your potential customers – may be yearning for a human connection.
Piracy is rampant; DVD sales are rapidly dissolving and consumers are tossing purchases of paper books out the revenue window, but hand-to-hand sales are distinctly different. A temporary yet meaningful bond is formed between buyer and seller; an emotional energy communicated by an effective pitch from an experienced wordsmith with the timeless gift of gab. Websites fail to evoke this response from would-be buyers, and rightly so! A human connection can only be facilitated by a call to action in one’s physical presence or proximity.
Witness the rise of farmer’s markets, and the success of products which are of particular places. It’s even starting to influence book sales, though – book tours are becoming organized according to social network interaction: where enough people organize to come together, because they want to personally meet the author, there the author goes (a nice example of the mixture that combines online and IRL…
Should the future mean even less mobility – and let’s just say that gas prices at $4 US already had an effect in the US, and they aren’t likely to be the end of that rise in prices (Europe’s always been more expensive) – there will probably be even more of a need and necessity to be location-based.
Even as you may be looking for (some) work that is location-independent or transferable to other places (and I honestly am), it is probably good not to forget that making yourself at home – and making a living is most definitely a part of that, too – is innately of a place, not removed from it.