I want to call this a sea change. But it’s not. It’s more like discovering the sea AND finding a boat at the same time. The, this, that I’m talking about is the Internet and all of the ridiculous ways that it has changed the world. The Internet has allowed the average American (I’m thinking small here) to become someone amazing: the person they’ve always wanted to be. We are as close to the fulfillment of the American dream (the land of opportunity and all that) as at any point in history. Gone (or going away) are many of yesterday’s barriers to the best and brightest bubbling up. But the people who should care (and be exploiting it) the most, haven’t seemed to notice how it affects them.
If you’re amazing, the sky is the limit. Whether your talent is writing, broadcasting, being funny, drawing, designing, building things, teaching or whatever—the Internet has changed the rules of the game for you. Forever. The “game” of course being, how successful and fulfilling your life will be.
Have an eye for design? With millions of new websites popping up everywhere, there’s never been a better time. Take this brilliant guy from Ohio State University (I refuse on moral grounds to use call it ‘The’ Ohio State University). He’s an amazing example of the Internet at work. Ben Bleikamp has an eye for design and so he designed himself a blog. And when he had an idea for another site, well, he made it. He put up a link in case you were interested in his design services. You know where this is going. This 20 year old guy is bringing in cash while attending school full-time and doing what comes easy and naturally to him. It’s beautiful: the ruthless efficiency and power of the Internet at work. Oh yeah, and business is so good that Ben is turning away work. Oh, and he designed this site.
If you’re a writer, you’ve no doubt heard of these new-fangled, crazy things called “blogs.” They allow anyone to write about anything that matters to them. Millions self-publish each day, and even more read. And so if you’re an amazingly gifted writer—be it writing about the etymology of far-east insects or sports, you can wax eloquently in your blog and gain a large following. There are a substantial number of people who have made a living just off their blog, and even gotten book deals after their blogs were discovered. What could possibly be stopping an aspiring writer?
Always wanted to get into broadcasting? Rocketboom. Ever heard of them? It’s a ridiculously amazing story about what’s possible today on the Internet. Basically, it’s a two person operation that came together to put out their own daily newscast. Long story short, it was amazingly successful with millions of people watching over the years. The ex-host, Amanda Congdon, is (I’ll bet) as popular as many of today’s news anchors. She just got signed by ABC to be a “real” (ha!) broadcaster. All because of some crazy thing she did on the Internet.
Are you a funny guy? Write funny skits or tell hilarious jokes that put all your friends in stitches. Until recently all that would have gotten you is the adulation of your friends and maybe a couple of dates (women love funny guys, right?). Lazy Sunday. You’ve likely seen this Saturday Night Live skit (and ironically, almost certainly not on SNL, but on YouTube). This skit was written by a couple of guys who posted their work online for fun until SNL called. Seriously. It turned out the funny videos they created and put up on the Web, were watched so many times that a couple of suits at the network had to pay attention. Next thing you know, they’re the highlight of SNL.
We could talk about the guy who made a ton of money “fading” jeans in his basement (remember when people wore those?) and selling them over the Internet. Or the guy who sold pixels on his website one at a time until he paid off college. There are –so- many of these amazing stories. So let’s not beat the poor horsey.
Now when I say no one cares, clearly I’m being provocative. Millions have already utilized the Internet to their benefit. But the vast majority have been the technically savvy (geeks) or the young. While in Boston a few weeks back, the point hit home. Traveling alone on business, one finds himself eager to strike up conversations. While eating dinner, I quickly found out that the bartender was a student at nearby Northeastern University and an aspiring broadcaster. She told me of the struggles to break into the industry and the cut-throat competition for even lousy internships. Then we talked about the new opportunities created by the Internet. She admitted that while she knew there were many new things possible, she hadn’t really thought about how it affected her. And really, someone like Nora (that’s her name), could use the help of the great equalizer most.
But why do you, the CEO, baker, consumer, doctor, etc, care? Maybe you’re already doing what you always wanted to do. This is ridiculously amazing for you because it means that we’ll all get greatness: the amazingly brilliant– the best of the best. No longer will the authors, broadcasters, comedians, etc we are offered be limited just to those who were born into the right family, went to the right college, or had the right executive as a neighbor. Have a crushing load of college debt that makes paying your dues by working five years as intern kind of hard? Well, today, talent rules…and any company that doesn’t discover the ridiculously diverse and amazing talent that’s out there is going to get demolished. The ruthlessly efficient competitive market ensures that a company that ignores what’s possible and relies only on the old methods for finding talent won’t last very long. It’s as close to a perfect competition for human talent as we’ve ever seen. And it’s ridiculously amazing. But no one seems to care.
* The 1,000 inclusions of ‘amazing’ were bizarrely intentional by the author.
2/14/03 – Always surreal to read your past writing. I remember writing this and heavily editing it because it was my first post here. It was a weird time because the Apprentice was about to start airing and so I’d finally have an audience for all the random things I wanted to say. But I was also super self-conscious about how I’d be thought of and represented, and I saw this blog as an opportunity to exert some kind of control.
Anyway, six years later, I still believe what I wrote here. Not surprisingly, I don’t look at it with as much bright-eyed wonderment, but if anything I think the early theme I called out has been proven out. Scores of people have built huge online followings in the years since and “crossed over” to the mainstream. LinkedIn, a place I’d go on to work at a year later, turned out to be a tidal wave towards connecting talent to opportunity. And, Ben, who I mention in the post went on to work at Bleacher Report, Yelp, and now GitHub. And, yeah, this WordPress theme is still one of his.