Twenty-six years ago I sold my clothes and books to buy groceries and Bugler tobacco to last me out the final two weeks of school and exams. Twenty-five years ago I had a script for a 10-minute film I could have shot with borrowed equipment if I'd had less than $200. Twenty-four years ago I could have quit my job cutting greens for $4 an hour and made double that if I could have come up with $500 to buy a used pickup truck and a push power mower.
Later that year (1984) I thought it might be a good move to start a coffee shop in a vacant storefront on Howard Street in Boone, NC, just a few blocks from campus. Thought I could offer people a place to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and talk talk talk. I could have pulled it off for less than $1,000 in 1984, and I even had friends who wanted in on the idea. But they were broke too.
And so we didn't start a coffee house, and I joined the Army instead.
I like to remember this now, because it doesn't really seem that long ago that I lived in a world where I could imagine anything but I couldn't do very much about any of it. Not very many people could. The deck was stacked against people without money or access, and we shaped our dreams accordingly.
This weekend we completed the videotaping of a short movie that I thought up about a month ago, and I'll start editing the footage next week.
But the thing that really struck me yesterday was how easily it all came together. Dozens of people. Talented people. We had three set-ups over two weekends, two of them at 9:30 a.m., and people showed up for every one of them. For no pay.
Cost to me? Some time. Sixteen dollars worth of DV tape. About $60 worth of makeup. Maybe $100 worth of groceries and beer.
Sure, there are other things: Computers and software and video equipment. Things I've made priorities over the years, over things like furniture and clothes and cars and appliances.
But here's the thing: It wasn't the money that made this possible. It was the Web.
How did I first tell people about my movie? On this blog. And thanks to the medium, I was able to post my script and let people look at it and decide for themselves if they wanted to be part of it.
How did talk up my shooting schedule? With Twitter.
How did I organize the logistics? With Facebook -- with messages and Groups and Events via Facebook. And we kept up interest by posting photos and videos. Not only that, but by giving other people admin powers on the cast and crew group, I didn't even have to do all of all the work. Other people pitched in and did it without prompting or direction.
Because it was my script, but it became our movie. Which is not only more fun -- it's BETTER.
And here's the biggest thing: We made the movie because we all understood what we could do with it. We're going to put it on the Web, where anyone can look at it. And doing that is fun.
This is why I'm not pessimistic about the future.
The greatest technology in the history of humanity is community. Shared interest. And when we created free tools that made it possible for a guy as wary of other human beings as I am to find friends and accomplish things, that was a quantum leap. I'll never join the Rotary, but I'll Twitter with my friends and blog and share stuff and I won't be alone. We are outside of institutions, but we're forming around shared interests and cooperating to advance them.
YouTube gives us an opportunity to distribute what we shoot, so we make videos.
What will happen when tools arise that let us form economic cooperatives? Start-up businesses? Virtual companies?
What potential will we unlock on that day?
When I was in my twenties, I understood I couldn't do the things I wanted without compromising on the things I valued, and I grew bitter.
Today I understand that the impossible is coming into range.
Photos by Geoff Marshall.