Digital is the best thing that ever happened to women because it signals the end of the middle man and the beginning of all us being connected to one another, in a lovely and deeply practical way.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “Disruptive Technologies”, which was coined by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor in 1997. Simply put, this means new technologies that enable businesses that nobody had thought of before to threaten (and often destroy) the old guard. One example is the popularity of buying books on an Internet-based retailer that led to the demise of the high street bookshop.
But if you take the disruption concept one step further, what’s really exciting is all of us selling books to each other, using the web as a virtual shop-front, with a check-out facility (so we can get paid).
For example, there are thousands of clever and witty book bloggers who now have a little shop attached to their blog. This is a brilliant way to learn, talk, share and buy new books, pre-loved (second-hand) titles and re-issued or just forgotten stories. And when you’ve finished with the books, you can re-sell them if you like, via your own shop.
You can even write your own books and have them privately, or self, published. Virginia Woolf set up Hogarth Press, her own publishing company, in 1917, producing her own books, in exquisitely designed editions.
There’s nothing stopping you doing the same and selling your work in the international marketplace called the web. Isn’t it amazing that we’ve come full circle?
In fact a lot of what is now “disrupting” the status quo is a return to kinder values — on a globally connected scale. This is very scary to big businesses that rely on mass production, vast scale, low-earning workforces and franchising and automated customer service.
With access to a sometimes bewildering amount of choice, the average consumer can do just that — choose. And so she chooses a supplier that she likes, which might well be local – or perhaps a female-owned start-up business in the emerging world – that is nice to her and provides a good service. Being nice online is true currency. Beware the harassed or deeply disappointed woman with a Twitter account.
In fact a lot of digital tools that make life easier — and lovelier — are just updates of old-fashioned ones. What is Pinterest but updated scrapbooking (on a massive scale)? Twitter is today’s telegram. Airbnb, despite the fuss made about it in the press, is exactly the same as booking a room for the night in someone’s house, a Bed & Breakfast, for the weekend.
When you wanted B&B recommendations (before the Internet came along), how did you find one? You asked your family or friends. Doesn’t everyone have an aunt who is incredibly well informed about seaside towns and the better B&Bs?
What is radical about Airbnb is that you can ask everyone’s aunt for a recommendation because the Internet now rests on something called the “social graph.” When you find a place via Airbnb, or some product or service that you simply love, you can tell everyone and celebrate them.
So many small businesses, many of them started by women now, grow exponentially because their customers are their best PR, building word of mouth overnight.
Conversely when an experience falls below your expectations, you can let everyone know about it. And everyone can amplify that message.
Which might save your life. Because there is a darker side to the world and it is noticeable that by connecting women all over the globe, both large and small injustices are being brought to light, and dealt with.
It might be a tiny slight — a major utility that isn’t treating your family well, over-charging you. So go online and complain. It’s amazing how swiftly corporations will fix things. They have entire “social reputation teams” combing the web for keywords, tags and problems. Your digital voice means something — use it.
Or perhaps it’s something scarier, like violence. Do you know about Hollaback? This is a nonprofit organization, started by women who didn’t want to be silent anymore. It’s now in 71 cities and 24 countries. If you’re attacked on the street, it’s simple to post a description on ihollaback.org while remaining anonymous. Most crimes are repeat offences in the same area and Hollaback has been instrumental in working with local law enforcement to catch criminals as more and more women come forward and say enough is enough.
You’ve probably participated in something called the “Sharing Economy” already. This is where people decide to engage in Collaborative Consumption, otherwise known as renting someone else’s property (like a lawn mower) for a small rental fee, rather than buying your own.
If you’ve spent anytime in a major U.S. city recently, you’ll have seen cars wearing a giant pink furry moustache. This is a car sharing service called Lyft and, like most emerging tech companies, started in San Francisco.
Let’s say you’re freelancing and want to make some extra money while times are slow. You can sign up as a driver on Lyft, apply to get background screening and be covered by Lyft’s insurance. People who need a lift can “see” your car is nearby on their mobile phone and request a trip. No money exchanges hands in the car (so you’re safer and it feels less weird all round), your passenger pays automatically (you get 80%, Lyft takes 20% cut) and your account is credited. They also rate you so future passengers can look at your profile and feel confident in you as a driver (while learning about your dodgy taste in music on the radio).
This collaborative force for good is heart-warming — and strangely familiar, even comfortingly retro. Talking of retro: make do and mend, crafting, DIY lessons — all these can be learned online now. There’s even something called MOOC — Massively Open Online Courses — where thousands of people at the same time can study at a higher education level – from the comfort of their own home. Yes, it’s the modern version of the Open University.
As the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun. But the Internet has made old-fashioned things possible on a global scale while making the world feel sort of cozy and nice. Which means the digital world just brought back kindness. And that’s a very good thing.
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