LinkedIn… and Rural America – Feb 2020

We just spent the last month in (mostly) rural America, driven primarily on back roads.   Upon our return home, for some unexplained reason, I logged into my LinkedIn account.  Why, you ask?  No clue – purely random.  I hadn’t logged on in memory (my blog posts do automatically post on LinkedIn – but without my interaction).  Having now been retired for about 6 years, its’ relevancy today is not what it was when we were working.

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But I could not have experienced more contrast by the image of my LinkedIn user community (in my case largely software and high tech) to the people whose homes, farms, towns and businesses we have been staying in or driving by for the last month.

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For those unfamiliar, LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft) is a B2B social networking platform that allows someone to grow their network – connect to organizations, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, mostly from a marketing perspective.  LinkedIn is, fundamentally, for those who want something they don’t have.  A new job, a new employee, a new source of funding, a new market, a new channel, a new customer…

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A cursory web search tells me LinkedIn has hundreds of millions of users.  According to the company Omnicore, close to 170 million people in the US are users – so there is a good chance you don’t need me to explain LinkedIn.

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I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but after departing the working world in a professional sales career spanning 35 years, and a total working lifetime closer to 50 years, I have not reflected back much on LinkedIn or my working career.  Like, at all.  Nada.

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After a quick view on LinkedIn, former colleagues are (rightfully) promoting their businesses, announcing new partnerships, describing conferences and new customers, and describing business benefits for products or specialties that all have three letter acronyms that I no longer pretend to understand.  Everyone is trying to disrupt a market.

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Yet all of this background flies in the face of everything we have seen in the last 30 days, wandering across the back roads of America, dragging our mobile home behind us, staying often times in small towns or remote locations.

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While the look and feel of LinkedIn members seems somewhat homogenous (queue designer business casual dress shirt/skirt, clean slacks/dungarees, sport jacket), the look and feel we experienced from traveling feels anything but.  Queue Carhartt clothing, boots, hoodies, chaps, cowboy hats, working jeans, gloves.

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It is ironic that much business success comes as a result of disruption, and we learn (or don’t) the value of agility.  One business disrupts a marketplace with a new technology, or new approach, and as a result becomes highly successful.  We all know about disruption:  medical advances, smart phones, the internet, online banking…

If you travel the back roads, you can see the impact of the disruption the interstate system (and changes in retail) has had on small towns where the primary road (before the interstate) was where all travel went through town.  Today, more often than not, even after 50 years of interstate travel and a seemingly long enough time to reinvent themselves, these towns are often times shells of their former lives.

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Small towns and retail in general have been disrupted in part by big box chains like Wal-Mart and newer organizations like Amazon.  Transportation was disrupted by the proliferation of air travel, and air travel has been disrupted by the abilities to network, share ideas, and “meet” via the internet.

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The towns we traveled through more often than not measured local populations in the tens or hundreds, not thousands.  Houses or farms are typically small, some well maintained, and some not so much.  Some houses had multiple cars, not because there were many drivers but more likely because existing cars were replaced with the next best car that worked a little better than the former, and it was easier and cheaper to just keep the old car in the yard.

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In many towns, the best-kept or well-maintained places often times were churches.

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Rural shopping patterns of necessity vary greatly from an urban or suburban user experience.  I would guess that, at least in the US, the average urban or suburban user has had a delivery from Amazon in the last 90 days, and if I had to guess had received at least one package within the last 30 days.  Particularly out west, where distances are huge, the more likely provider of products is a trip to the local Dollar General store (15,000++ stores), whose stores proliferate like rabbits in just about every small town we went through.

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Whereas in our neighborhood at home we might see multiple visits daily from FedEx, UPS, Amazon and the USPS, out west and in more remote areas deliveries by these same vendors could take hours for a single delivery.  The image in my mind is that of Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway, where in the end he delivers a single package to a farmhouse in the middle of farm country.

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These are people who by necessity need to be self-sustaining.  There may be a 911 number to call when an emergency reveals itself, but that is less helpful when there may be no cell signal or medical attention may very well be hours away.  If the well pump blows a gasket and the nearest plumber is hours away just in travel time, and not least the cost associated with hiring a plumber when your working annual income does not support such a convenience, you need to be able to fix stuff yourself.

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As the poster child for unhandy people, I would clearly need to become agile and change my tune were I to live in such a remote environment.  Scary.

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If you want remote living circumstances, appreciate the benefits of small-town living, want to get away from or stay away from large town/city living, you clearly have choices.  And more power to you!

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There are so many different ways to live our lives.  And yet?  Despite whatever our differences we may have, I guess we all want success, happiness, passion in what we do, love, health, and justice.  Vive la difference!

I now return you to your normal viewing channel.  March on, soldier.  Here’s to you finding your own state of irrelevance.

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