Recently I went to an Apple store. In a suburban mall in New Jersey. It was the week after Black Friday weekend and its deluge of online sales. I had hoped to exchange an iPhone case I also bought on line.
At midafternoon the mall was quiet as most malls are in a state where COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are once again leapfrogging themselves. But the Apple store was more than quiet. it was bare. No new iPhones or MacBooks on the tables. No iPhone or iPad cases on the shelves. Nothing. To. Buy.
It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a pandemic year of sad upon sadder things. A store which like all Apple stores has always been brimming with delighted energy – silent. Nearly deserted. 3 weeks before Christmas.
It was suddenly a metaphor for everything I’ve cried over as 2020’s increasing miseries and tragedies and deaths piled up. This Apple store looked like – well – death. Like a place where the lights were about to be snuffed out. As I said, a metaphor for all the human lights snuffed out needlessly this year and all the small business lights snuffed out because Congress couldn’t find enough decency to help them through this financially until the very end of the year. When it was way too late. Then there are all the grandparents who still can’t see their new grandkids and all the kids who still can’t go to real school in person and all the young people in their first or second jobs who still can’t drop by anyone’s desk to ask a newbie’s casual question.
An Apple store means many things to many people. But until now it has never meant lost jobs or food bank lines which stretch forever. Or loved ones who never saw the holiday gifts already bought for them. An Apple store. Deserted and like so much in 2020 and still in 2021- dead.
I was going to write about the Apple controversy. And how CEO Tim Cook’s refusal to roll over and let the FBI tell him to create a backdoor to Apple’s vaunted iPhone encryption is a classic clash between two great rights – privacy and national security. I was going to add in antivirus software founder John McAfee’s post volunteering his band of hackers to break just the one iPhone in question –used by one of the San Bernardino killers. I was going to say that like many people, I don’t really know who is right. Which right has to give way for the greater good. And which right IS the greater good in this case. And finally I was going to add how I certainly don’t want any person or entity or agency or government to have the key to what’s in my own iPhone.
But tonight – listening to the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton make her victory speech in the Nevada caucuses – I decide to leave the Apple controversy for another, longer day. Because Clinton, mentioning how important small businesses and entrepreneurs were to the overall need to create good jobs, made me think about something central to this Presidential election. How do we create enough GOOD jobs for all the angry people left behind by the technological revolution? And all the young people who’ll need good jobs in the future?
You can’t turn everyone into an IT code writer. Or doctor. Or lawyer. Or basketball player. Or musician. Not everyone can graduate from high school with advanced placement credits. Or sail through college with a huge loan right into that great new high tech world. It isn’t just lack of the right education at the primary and secondary level. It’s interests. It’s native abilities. It’s caring about something enough to make it and you a success.
Almost everyone has something they really care about. Something they’d spend long hours learning about and doing. And I think many of those interests and abilities can be turned into small businesses. Which may be where to find the good jobs we need.
In the small suburban towns where I live, Main Streets are alive again with all kinds of little stores and businesses. Many women with kids find they can develop home-based businesses around something they always did for pleasure. Like making gloriously good cupcakes.
Maybe the entrepreneur part comes in when you look around and identify a need you can fill with your business and knowledge. Maybe we can foster this way of looking at the world and your place in it if we start early enough in school. And maybe we can use the internet to reach the older worker who’s stuck in a town where the industry has gone away. Even without broadband at home, everyone who can drive to a connected library (and most are) can have the benefit of an online career counselor. And basic courses. And whatever else might work.
Small businesses are the job engines of our world. Ask any economist. Maybe instead of making all these empty, grandiose promises, our political candidates this year might look around at the people who come to their rallies –and develop some targeted business programs aimed at them. Because if a small, one person business is successful, it will hire someone else. And someone else.