Of unicorns, ‘Muricans and eye-bones

Strange times and unique challenges demand a new vocabulary

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

One way to expand your vocabulary is to pay attention to the economy. The business world, like every industry, region or subculture, has its own way of framing and defining its work, its challenges and its particular set of responsibilities.

Some of these words make their way into the every day vocabulary of those outside of the industry.

The term “under water” for example, has nothing to do with swimming or boating safety. It a real estate term which refers to the state of a piece of property being worth less than the amount it has been financed for. In other words, its value on the balance sheet is more (usually far more) than its actual value.

This is fairly unusual, and is a sign of the gyrations of the real estate market and of our “Great Recession”. It became a common term precisely because it became an all too common experience.

It has now become a term that most of us recognize even if we are not real estate professionals.

Sometimes a simple word in a different context has more meaning than you might have thought it would.

Sometimes a simple word in a different context has more meaning than you might have thought it would.

The word “unicorn” (in a business context) is not yet widely known or used. As you might imagine, it applies to a rare, even mythical creature.

But in this case, it has nothing to do with rainbows or a white horse-like animal with a single horn.

The mythical creature in this case is a start-up business that actually makes money.

In case you didn’t know, most start-ups (and IPOs) rarely make a profit, and investing in them requires a step – or even a leap – of faith.

Uber, Lyft and Amazon all started off as visionary – and money-losing operations. Amazon, the more established of these, lost money for years.

But not now, of course.

So does losing money quarter after quarter really matter? Maybe not.

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Which brings me to the newest term of all -”eye-bones” – it refers to the ability to see beyond the obvious and immediate – to see into “the bones” of a business or opportunity.  (1*)

To “use your eye-bones” means to take a long, deep look at a possibility or situation, one that everyone else seems to neglect or bypass.

Too many of us are deterred by the cosmetics or initial impressions of what that one visionary sees as that one golden opportunity.

Opportunities and changes will always come upon us, it is up to us to grab them.

And those opportunities and changes will be relentless and unforgiving.

About a decade ago for example, the largest corporations (by market value) were banks and oil companies.

In 2019 the most valuable companies are Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

What do you think might be the most valuable company two years, or five years from now?

I’d guess that it will be none of those.

Consider Facebook and Google for example. They offer their services for “free” to the user.

What could be better than “free”?

Almost everything it seems.

There’s an old saying in the digital sphere – “If you are not paying for the product, you ARE the product”.

Those services and websites may not cost you cash, but they cost you far more than green tinted legal tender. Those websites are selling our information, our distractibility and our eyeballs to the highest – or maybe even lowest – bidder.

How do you make money if you give away your product?

What happens when your customers realize that THEY are the product?

This is one of those business principles that works great – until it doesn’t.

The economic rise, if not dominance of Google and Facebook is premised on “big data” – the mass of information that we all, willingly or not, abundantly contribute to.

As more and more of us become a little more aware, if not protective of our privacy and buying habits, this business model becomes, ever so slowly, less and less lucrative.

Many words change meaning depending on  the context. Some words, like "redneck" "queer" or "'Murican" begin as derogatory terms and become "reclaimed" as identifiers.

Many words change meaning depending on
the context. Some words, like “redneck” “queer” or “‘Murican” begin as derogatory terms and become “reclaimed” as identifiers.

Time to start using those eye-bones

So what does the future look like?

Privacy and security will become more valuable. “Big data” – and those massive, centralized anonymous companies will be trusted – and used less.

Companies will start learning what a few of their customers are already learning; nothing is – or should be – free.

There’s an old saying in the pre-digital world – “You get what you pay for”. Our music, our art, our everyday  products are worth what we invest in them.

We, as customers, are worth pursuing only as our dollars are needed by the companies who provide our goods and services.

Our “data” is worth money, but we are not given power over who has it or how they use it. And we get Facebook or Farmville…..

Almost every user of Facebook or other “free” websites discovers, sooner or later, that the one thing of value these websites take from us all is time.

Nothing is more valuable or irreplaceable than time. “Time-suck” is another one of those terms that define our era.

What is our time and our attention worth? Are they worth as much  – or even more – than our dollars?

This is not a sign I expected to see on a door.  But then I did.

This is not a sign I expected to see on a door. But then I did.

Google uber alles?

And, above all, Google, besides being intrusive and nearly invisible, is hierarchical. Life after Google will – and must be – heterarchical.  (2*)  This would be a return to the ethic of the first generation of hackers  – the presumption that any one of us can – as the spirit moves – contribute to the ever-emerging, multi-faceted, intentional alternative cyber-reality. Informed participation is the only requirement to join this particular club.

Knowledge is the coin of the new realm.

“Information wants to be free!” was the rallying cry of the early hackers. Not data, and not filtered by corporations and interest groups.

Non-mediated, uncensored information and global communication for individuals of every culture, language and class free of government or business control or restriction was the hacker ideal.

No one anticipated a few entities like Google, Apple and Amazon setting the rules for all of us.

In other words, Google and the others have defaulted into pure top-down and authoritarian. Life after Google will be – has to be – eternally emerging and inherently bottom-up.

To say that this will be disruptive would be the ultimate understatement.

But it is also the ultimate opportunity for those with the eye-bones to see.

 

(1*)    Some terms emerge and stay, some pop up and disappear. Others are made up entirely. One of the biggest spoofs of all was in Seattle back in the “Grunge scene” of the 1990s. They fooled The New York Times about the street slang of the music subculture. You can hear the story here – https://www.knkx.org/post/sub-pop-ceos-1990s-prank-new-york-times-creates-grunge-lexicon?

(2*)    Heterarchical is a two-dollar word for a multiplicity of individuals and networks working together (or not).