When I was a kid, my parents bought a small farm. My dad’s got family with serious land out in Arkansas — people for whom “small farm” would suggest hundreds of acres — and he grew up with a deep respect for that lifestyle and the people who live it. Life landed him in the big city, though, and it became a memory.
I was six when his work transferred him from Dallas to Tulsa, and it became his absolute intention to live the farming life again. In no time at all he found a little hobby farm out in the country near a tiny town called Claremore — a couple acres near the house that we filled with garden, and fifteen acres of pasture for our animals.
I remember whole Saturdays spent in the garden every spring, dragging big stones out of the way so Dad could till up the ground, and then following behind him searching for rocks in the fresh-turned earth. It was two steps, duck to grab a rock, and then chuck it over the fence and down the hill. Just that, over and over again, for hours.
We also raised chickens, mainly for eggs, although I do remember a disastrous attempt at butchering a rooster one time. Just gathering the eggs was a nasty chore, though. Chickens…chickens aren’t fun. They’re cruel, stupid, noisy little beasts.
We also kept a couple square-stack beehives, and we’d spin honey once or twice a year for gift baskets. And we cut our pasture for straw every year, which meant baling hay and hauling it back to the barn to stack in neat rows. That was hard work. Raising rabbits and ducks and geese was easier, but it was a constant fight just to keep the little buggers alive.
Really, of all the things we had to do to make that farm work, my favorite part was taking care of the sheep. They could get a little rough at times, especially when bad weather kept them locked up in a barn for more than a few days, but apart from that it was just a matter of opening the big gate to let them out in the pasture and following them around for a few hours.
That’s right. I was a shepherd. I liked it, too. Apart from the first few minutes, dodging the stampede as they rushed for freedom, and then the last few minutes when it came time to round them up and chase them home, it was pretty much the same thing as free time.
I’d spend whole days strolling through our fields, or sitting on a rocky outcrop watching them graze down below, and lose myself inside my head. There was a poetry to it, hearkening to some of my favorite characters from Bible and fantasy stories, and I’d spend hours entertaining myself with all the daydreams of a child’s vivid imagination.
The Birth of a Content Economy
There was a time when everyone was a farmer or a shepherd — when the world’s only economy was food, when putting food on the table meant making food to put on the table, every day. As technology and education and infrastructure develop, though, food constantly loses its scarcity. Fewer and fewer people are needed to supply the daily demands of a region, freeing up the rest to spend their time on other things.
That process is usually called the transition from agrarian to industrial economy. As food loses scarcity, a significant population finds itself with extra free time (or, from a more pessimistic angle, “out of work”). This free time demands to be filled, and that leads to a new demand, not for food now, but for things. And once again everyone is employed, as they start producing things to sell so they can afford to buy other things.
The next major transition is from industrial to service-based. I remember that being a hot topic of discussion when I was a little kid — some people lamenting America’s declining role in world industry, while others pointed out that we were leading the way in the birth of major software companies, the explosion of personal computers, and the development of all the infrastructure that has, here in glorious 2010, turned the future into the present.
Why did that happen? Because things got so cheap to make. Industry wasn’t profitable in the States anymore, because manufactured goods just outright lost their scarcity. We survived as a nation by transitioning to the new demand — advanced technological services to support all the amazing things everyone had now. It’s fascinating to see how that pattern plays out, and it’s playing out again, right now.
Services have lost their scarcity, too. We need less and less time to do critical design, prototyping, development, information exchange, testing, research and marketing. The economy of the ‘Nineties is already obsolete, outsourced, and our population is finding itself, once again, with an abundance of free time. And you know what we’re filling it with now?
Thoughts and daydreams. Facts and fantasies. Content. More and more, the world’s most advanced economies are demanding information and entertainment. That’s good news for you and me, because we’re getting the necessary training to participate in that economy.
Staking Your Claim
I’m not going to pretend I’m the first one to make that claim. In fact, it seems like a pretty obvious trend, especially when you consider the frightening collapse of the American economy in the last couple years — a span during which Hollywood pulled in record-breaking box offices, and all of our major content industries bucked the general trend.
Barring some apocalyptic catastrophe, this is the economy in which we’re going to be participating in the near future. We’ve already been buying into it for years — I got my very first job mowing lawns so I could buy a tape player, and tapes to play on it. But what has been a luxury item for our precious free time is about to become our primary preoccupation.
The good news is that it’s easy to get into this industry. Start a blog. That’s all there is to it. Get yourself a URL and start building a brand. More than that, start producing content. It’s work — it’s a legitimate industry, so it’s got to be work — but it can also be profitable.
Even if you’re not looking for a source of income, it’s an opportunity to get your hands dirty and learn the inner workings of the content-production machinery that’s going to be producing most of the goods you’re going to be buying. Spend a few weeks poking around, spend a few months learning the complex forces at play, and you’ll be a much more informed consumer in the new marketplace.
The amazing thing about this economy is its ability to profitably target incredibly specific demographics. Just a few years ago, if you wanted to sell a product, you had to make something that appealed to a significant portion of the population and then get your message out to a huge portion of the population, and hope there was enough overlap — people your product appealed to who actually heard your message — to pay for your advertising and overhead, let alone generate some money.
The internet has obliterated that barrier. Start a blog, learn some basic SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and you can start tomorrow talking directly to the subset of the community who cares about your product.
And your product is content. Your product is your own ideas, your own voice. You don’t need to make something new, you just need to make something you.
More than that, you don’t need to make something for someone else. You call the shots. Talk about something that interests you. Turn your own hobbies, your own pastimes, into your revenue source.
This economy, more than any that has come before, empowers the laborers to dedicate all their time and effort to producing something of inherent value to them. It’s a capitalism even Karl would be proud of.
Making it Work
I started this message nearly three months ago, when I told you to start a blog to improve your writing. At the time I recommended starting with a free service — publishing through Xanga or Blogspot or WordPress. If you want to participate in the new economy, though, you really need to do more than that.
Get a URL. Find a name for your website. Oh, and think of it as a “site,” not a “blog,” if that helps you take it more seriously. This isn’t your personal journal, full of all the boring little nothings that happen from day to day. This is your platform, your marketing and manufacturing and distribution departments. A WordPress blog is the easiest way to build a professional-looking website, even if all you want is static pages.
You’ll also need to find a web host. I’m using Dreamhost, and I haven’t had any complaints. Carlos at Conscious Me uses Bluehost, and I’m pretty sure he’s satisfied. Whatever you do, find someone who supports easy WordPress setup (they almost all do), and with a price you consider reasonable.
Owning a website costs about $120 a year for hosting service, and another $10 or so a year to keep your URL (the address that points to your site, such as UnstressedSyllables.com). If you’re not ready to make that commitment, by all means keep working on your blog at WordPress.com. Because, more than money, building a professional blog requires time.
You need enough information in your archive to keep people reading after they get to your site. You need enough readers to talk about you to get new people coming in, and enough time invested in SEO that Google starts helping out with that. And, above all, you need high-quality content to win the hearts of everyone who pops by.
That’s what you’re working on, with every article you read at Unstressed Syllables. That’s what you’re working on every time you practice being a better writer. Because it’s not just about the ideas — it’s about your ability to communicate clearly. The better you are at that, the better you’ll be at reaching new readers.
If you’re ready to commit the time, start out by reading some of the other product already on the market. Dave Doolin at Website in a Weekend provides an entire blog dedicated to helping a new user get a WordPress site up and running, and optimized for performance and reliability.
The guys at ProBlogger provide one of the biggest, most-trusted resources on the internet for people trying to participate in this new economy, and CopyBlogger is full to the brim with advice on making high-quality content that reaches readers.
And if you really want some help making it happen, check out the Blog Challenge Series, four month-long, intensive projects dedicated to helping you build an archive, perfect your site, create a marketable product, and get that product sold.
Did that last line sound like a sales pitch? I suppose it could. The Blog Challenge Series is a collaboration between me, Carlos Velez, and Dave Doolin, and the second Challenge in the series, the Blog Maintenance Challenge, starts this weekend at Website in a Weekend. Check it out if you’re interested.
The point of this post isn’t to get you to buy my products, though. It’s to get you producing your own. If you’ve got the time and the research skills, everything you need to know can be found for free. Whatever you want to do, though, you should get started now. It’s a changing world and a pretty awesome future. Be part of it.
Photo credit Sherry Pogue. (Hi Mom!)