On Emerson and Survival

A Very Personal Post

Self Reliance For Survival: good for me, Apple & Amazon

It has been a while since I wrote a Big Stack Riff and I have good reason.

My dad was very sick, and is now in physical rehab - these last couple of months have been hard on mom and dad. Dad is confused and his legs barely work. He’s fallen a couple of times and normal sleep for me is nonexistent - he sometimes calls a couple of times in the morning, confused and I have to reorient Dad and pray he doesn’t try to walk without help.

In a flash a couple of months ago the weight of my family’s world was put on my shoulders and to survive you have to find deep resources inside to make it through.

I took it for granted that I could always come to family for support and now it’s the other way around. I’m the one doing all the talking with doctors and nurses, dealing with bills and paperwork, and figuring out what’s next. I’m counting on myself to deal with the gritty scary details. The folks were counting on me and I rediscovered something about how to survive.

I’ll make it simple. That deepest resource I mentioned, when you’re focused on survival, is self-reliance. And it has not been an easy thing to find sometimes.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay about it. He was speaking to you and me, individuals and how to get by in life. And right now I need it.

Self-reliance is also the key to the survival of businesses and countries. Emerson would puke at this transition, since he was focused on the individual and not some group-think entity like a “joint stock company” but this is my Riff.

Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion.

If someone or Emerson objects to using him in this way, I’ll just quote from Emerson: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.”

I haven’t been in any frame of mind to think and write. But I’m digging deep and hopefully you can relate to this. I need to “do something” so while I’m looking for answers I’m going to use my mind in other ways.

I’ve got some ideas about what’s happening at Apple and Amazon which I understand with my current frame of mind.

Apple is in the early stages of developing satellite technology to support its devices. A dozen techs led by a couple of engineers who worked on a satellite imaging bought by Google. Thanks to the rise of commercial spaceflight and new kinds of low-cost small satellites, my guess is Apple sees a cheap R&D opportunity to develop space-related tech instead of relying on other companies. It’s too early to say what we can expect but I imagine this is the kind of R&D that an aerospace, defense, or telecommunications business normally do.

My guess is since they hired former Google techs that that there’s a “Maps” project in the works. Another idea is maybe Apple would like to do things to bypass some of the connectivity provided by telecom providers. If so then it’s a kind of Ben Thompson Stratechery play, where you cut out the middle man you used to do business with for a service and do it yourself or make it unnecessary. (“Modularity” is probably the Stratechery phrase.)

Just imagine using an Apple account a better version of Google Maps - work, travel and commerce gets decided more by Apple and less by Google and other companies.

Amazon is also testing an idea to make it less reliant on other companies for its survival. In the past year, it is getting more involved in the rail business and bought 250 specially branded and designed freight containers for a U.S. West coast experiment. Amazon is testing how to cut out middle-men providers known as “intermodal marketing companies”, like J.B. Hunt, Hub and Schneider, and putting its own freight containers and dealing directly with railroad companies.

It’s no surprise, since Amazon has been building its own delivery infrastructure over the last few years, including planes, and cutting out mail carriers - it was only a matter of time. If it works then Amazon shaves down the cost of shipping everything we buy through Amazon.

Look at what happened to XPO Logistics, FedEx and UPS. Amazon is trying to do more for itself and these companies’ bottom line have been squeezed.

Look at what happened to Nokia and Ericsson (google it if you’re Gen Z) . Apple creating a whole new product basically shoved them into the history books or words for google searches.

It’s gloomy to talk about cutting out middlemen but we know Amazon and Apple made themselves stronger for doing it. If your savings are parked in their shares, then you have one more way of understanding how they continue to be stronger and hopefully your hard-earned funds safer.

Self-reliance is a very personal phrase -  it’s a bit too intimate to use when describing the hard competitive images of tech disruption but it helps me understand competitive advantage and survival in a new way.

I’m going to end on a personal note, about dad. There’s a lot to do, including weeks of physical therapy, getting home help and then a whole separate health issue involving radiation treatments. But I made sure we kept track of the medical care, found a decent rehab place, and I want to find a good physical therapist for when I can bring dad home. Then it’s about figuring how how to get him radiation for several weeks straight. Dad got thrown into the deep end and I’m trusting in my ability to help pull him out and back to the world. I don’t have answers, I’m finding them one step at a time.

Last words from Emerson: “I shall endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my family…”

Loading more posts…