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See a Need, Fill a Need, 2009 Edition

An older gentleman arrived at Starbucks the other day for a meeting with a 40-something tech entrepreneur. The younger man was obviously prepared to graciously host a meeting with his elder investor. The older man walked with a cane, wore thick glasses, and needed some assistance before landing safely into a Starbucks comfy chair.

Look at all the young people with computers“, the older man forcefully exhaled, as if to make sure we all heard his pronouncement. I imagined he was quite a force in some business community somewhere in the past. He was That Kind of Guy. He purposefully made firm eye contact with me when I glanced his way, and I am pretty sure he winked as well. “Classic, Grandpa“, I thought to myself. I formed a silent “rock on” with my right hand under the table.

Everything’s computers“, he continued preaching to his junior partner. “Wonderful things. I don’t know how we did without them before. I’m on mine every day. Essential! Essential if you want to make it today“.

I put my headphones on, surfed to Pandora and clicked the “Trip Hoppin’ Radio” channel. I like Thorn Yorke, Saru, Bitter:Sweet and their ilk as work music these days. I turned up the volume. I assumed Junior was working on some online catalog database or perhaps an interactive pipe filter specification tool for field use in the refining industry, or some such software innovation I didn’t need to hear about. None of my business.

But He didn’t leave me alone. At one pont Junior left for the restroom, and Grandpa decided it was His privilege to shout loudly in my direction, despite my headphones and my intended-to-be-obvious happy listener head nodding.

Good to see everyone working. All the computers, everyone’s busy. No leanin’ on the shovel. That’s what we need right now. Good to see“, he offered.

Keep in mind I’m not 20-something or even thirty something. I’m about the same age as Junior. I dress down and nondescript; last year’s Costco fashions. Perhaps that made me less threatening to Grandpa Buffet, because He wanted to chat. I obliged.

Yeah“, I muttered, and I looked about the room. I could see many of the laptop screens Grandpa had seen. Only when I looked at them, I saw Twitter, Facebook, several MySpace screens, and one LinkedIn page (Starbucks interviews are sooo obvious). Yet another Facebooker in the far corner. Oh wait, a designer working in Illustrator. That’s work… oh, no… it’s a MySpace background. Oh well, I thought to myself.
It’s the next big thing“, I said to the gentleman. “We’re all connected now, all around the world.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that in this case, we were all in fact globally-connected slackers, spending our time on Social Media. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle the truth. I certainly didn’t want to risk upsetting him… he’d surely make a scene if he knew that:

  • The average computer in the room was worth about $1200, some costing upwards of $3,000. More than Grandpa put down on his first house, which I am sure he’d be happy to tell me is now worth millions.
  • Most of the people he noticed had been there for hours, if not all day. They were regulars.
  • Of the visible slackers, all but 2 had headphones on, and most of those headphones had white wires. That’s an additional several hundred dollars at each table.
  • We all have cell phones, many of them iphones and smart phones. I had two with me that day.
  • Virtually every screen in sight was opened to a social media web site that sucked in productivity and contributed absolutely zero to the national economy.

Young people are the key to the future. They understand this stuff“, he declared. I suspected from his tone that this was leaning more towards me being “old like him” rather than one of the “young people”, so I was THRILLED when Junior returned to regain Grandpa’s attention. I restored Pandora to my ears.

While many of the social media slackers at Starbucks that day were students, several were obviously outside workers on the road, one was a pharmaceutical rep, one was a hiring manager for a college painting company, and one was a rep for an MLM program. I learned later one other was a missionary (the for-profit kind we have so many of these days). Despite the variety, they had several things in common:

  • they disappointed Grandpa in the productivity department, wasting valuable human resources (often other people’s human resources) while looking busy
  • they had a strong need to connect to other human beings, to be themselves yet known as somebody in the world
  • they were willing to spend a lot of effort and take a lot of risk just so they could participate. They placed a high value on inclusion.

See a Need, Fill a Need” is something I would expect Grandpa to have said, had I asked him for business advice. Yes, indeed.


  1. aaron wall wrote:

    Does such an observation bode well for niche communities? I have to believe that in time people will get burned out on all the types of spam and noise that fester on the broader networks, wishing for a deeper and more valuable interaction.

    Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 7:17 am | Permalink
  2. Jamie wrote:

    Nice time capsule! Reminds me a lot of the fin de siecle vibe right before the infamous Barrons article in March 2000. Wonder if Granpa is a Barrons subsciber?

    Monday, February 16, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  3. Bill Hartzer wrote:

    Too bad you didn’t get photos of this or even a video of it.

    Friday, February 20, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink
  4. john andrews wrote:

    I am witnessing part of it again right now, Bill. 6 tables busy in Starbucks, 3 with laptops. next to me, Facebook for the past almost 3 hours. To my left, 4 people around one laptop, one guy showing how to do Facebook stuff since around 2pm (it’s now 6). Across the way, I can’t see right now but when I got a refill a half hour ago it was Facebook and Twitter. Two people, textbooks open.

    Friday afternoon so maybe that’s an excuse…

    Friday, February 20, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  5. I rarely take my laptop out of the office and I drink my coffee at my desk, so I don’t have these Starbucks moments. But I often see the reverse of this. I’m 56 (as they say, a young 56) and work among people mostly in their 20s and 30s. I often get to present on SEO topics to them and every time I ask how many have a blog, are on Twitter, hardly a hand goes up. But almost everyone has a Facebook account!

    Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  6. I agree with you completely. Some of these “young” people actually could be productive on their on niche site they are passionate about, but no, let’s burn 4 hours a day making MySpace (I hope anyone in their twenties don’t still use this) or Facebook have deeper pockets based on user generated content (ie marketing profiling).

    I really hope that more people wake up, add up the weekly or monthly hours and realize that they could be making MONEY, rather then giving it all away with their rare free time as a twenty something.

    You are either time poor, or financially poor. I prefer productively time poor.

    Yeah, I wasted time posting this comment, but hell, I worked a 12 hour day and enjoying a glass of scotch, not in a Starbucks ;)

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
  7. Ryan Martin wrote:

    Thanks for sharing your story. It is really well written. That is funny how the older gentleman associated computers with work. The vast number of people (young and old) that waste the day away on social networks is amazing. While I’m in front of a computer most of the day as well, I really try to limit my time on social networks.

    Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink
  8. Sammi wrote:

    its amazing how much the internet has taken peoples lives over, i know i spend a silly amount of time on it working in the web industry its part of my job, but social networks like facebook let people interact with old friends in the UK and beyond i think its somewhat a addiction…

    Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  9. Kathy wrote:

    I agree with you. Thanks for sharing story its very nice and well written. The Keysearch Analytics blog has tips, tricks, advice and case studies for the search marketing industry.

    Saturday, March 7, 2009 at 3:22 am | Permalink