(This is a blog post that represents an idea being fleshed out, so please be patient if it seems more half-baked than usual- because it admittedly is.)
What happens during times of disruption?
Right now, we live in a time where things are changing fast. The old rules are being broken left and right, and it rapidly seems like few rules are left standing. That makes it very challenging to live your life, when there’s no longer any sure bet to make in any direction. Let’s look at a few examples.
Financial contracts are treated differently than ever before. People who looked at their house as a long term investment and/or a source of quick cash have been surprised to learn that the old rule no longer applies. And as a result, there’s little reason for them to obey the moral, social contract rule that says “if you take on an obligation, you need to fulfill it” and many are choosing to walk away from homes and mortgages, willing to take the credit rating hit for the chance to start over. In essence, they are trading their reputation for being a good risk and someone you should loan to, to get out from under a crushing mortgage and a home that may never live up to its potential as an investment as well as just shelter. And there seems to be an easy justification to do this, when we see banks making huge profits, having trouble and seeking to take even more money from consumers in fees- the social contract of quid pro quo is broken, and there’s not real trust between the parties anymore.
The rules of Content Creator and Content Consumer are being challenged. I went to see “Hair” on Broadway, and it’s a production where the actors come out into the audience, dance with them, touch them, sing- the performance is much more interactive than many other shows I’ve seen. That wall between Creator and Audience is broken, and as a result, the experience is much more engaging. But it’s also obvious not everyone is comfortable with this invasion of their space. Sometimes, people don’t want to become part of the act or action- they just want to be passive consumers.
Are we creating a place where the audience is obligated to play along? I’ve seen plenty of people get frustrated with blogging and podcasting- myself included, from time to time, because the interactivity isn’t always there. Is there going to become an unwritten rule that even if you aren’t paying for content, you’re obligated to leave some sort of response to it as a form of payment?
The Argument over Health Care is emblematic of this problem as well. We require hospitals, by law, to treat people coming in the doors and save their lives, even if they don’t have insurance. But we’ll happily bill them and make them indentured servants of the system as a result. Covering everyone is the right thing to do, but people who resist this say “I don’t want to pay for someone who abuses the system, that’s not fair.” The bottom line is that we can’t pick and choose who’s worthy and who’s not- and by creating access for everyone to basic care, we’re caring for everyone.
Lord knows there are things the federal government, state government and even my neighbors/civic groups, you name it- spend money on that I don’t approve of, but I have a limited amount of control and authority over how the money I give them is spent. I don’t get to opt out of national defense, road maintenance or anything else, so why should health care be any different? The healthy will get sick, on average, and we know they will get old, so chances are you are paying in when you’re young so you get the benefit when you’re old- and that’s a social contract I think we should all be able to live with. The cases of abuse in any system are part of the cost of doing business, and we’ll never eliminate it all, no matter how hard we try.
We’re gradually disrupting many of the rules of how people should behave, and how society decides what we should be responsible for as a collective, and what we should be responsible for as individuals.
It used to be that any money in savings or investment accounts was considered safe, now finding a safe haven for assets with any sort of growth is a bit of a crap shoot. So even if you are trying to take care of yourself, you run into the problem that transactions with others does not come with automatic trust anymore, but a healthy dose of skepticism.
I have to assume that anyone I do business with is trying to take advantage of me, and vice versa, and while that’s not the way I want to do business, it seems to be the coin of the realm. This means reading the fine print, putting things in writing, keeping copies of everything, and meeting all expectations as never before.
This is why concepts about transparency, and trust are so important- it’s about having faith in others, or at least enough that you can conduct business. It’s so refreshing when you have a simple, pleasant and easy exchange with someone- and that, I think, is the new business model. The more pleasant and trustworthy you can be in business, the more honest and clear and open you can be, the more people will flood your gates. I’m tired of entering into every transaction wearing armor and wielding swords- I just want to be able to get business done and be able to trust that others will look out for me and I will do the same for them.
When I watch the news, I get an overwhelming sense that people right now are very afraid. They feel attacked and are disillusioned that the old rules don’t apply. Like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of death and dying (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance), I think we’re in the anger and bargaining phase of things. I don’t look forward to the depression stage, but I think once we hit acceptance of things as they are, and moving towards what we want them to be, and get over grieving for what was but is no more, we’ll all be in a better place. It’s difficult and stressful dealing with uncertainty and constant change. But once we accept that it’s not going away, or is just temporary, and instead is a new way of life, we’ll all be able to move on and finally get things back on track.
While I wonder what social contracts we’ll keep (driving on the right is a social (and then legal) contract, as is curbing your dog, feeding your children, etc.) and which ones we’ll decide are made to be broken in the future. But this is going to be a bumpy ride into the new normal, and I’m hanging on and trying to enjoy the ride as much as possible.
What do you think? Is the social contract disrupted? What rules are always going to be in effect, and which ones are simply old fashioned? Who gets to decide and why?