We’re all products of an industrial culture, a culture predicated on the idea that we make things according to a protocol that assures sameness. For over a century, we’ve been refining industrial production to make the processes more predictable, more cost effective, and more regimented.

This objective has informed just about every aspect of our lives—from our educational system, to the way we’re hired and trained, to the way we live and function as consumers. Our imperative has been to work hard within the system, do what we’re told, follow orders, make stuff the way we’ve been taught to make stuff, and hopefully be rewarded for doing so. Color within the lines and you get a gold star.

In order to be part of this system, we needed to be selected—hired, chosen for the team, required to fit in. No room for the different or alternative view. That is until now.
This decades old cultural imperative has collided head on with a new, emerging influence based not on sameness but on difference.

The Internet has altered so many things—it has made us realize that we no longer need to subscribe to the “sameness” of the industrial culture. We no longer are confined to purchasing the mass-marketed brand (of anything) because we can now go online and find that which is unique, different, and even art.

Also, we no longer need to be selected to make stuff by some controlling party at the top of the heap. We can set up our own shop and begin serving up our own art as an alternative to the mass-produced version. And we can be successful—look at the many bloggers, filmmakers, musicians, and artisans who have risen to prominence thanks to the immediate connectivity of the Internet.

This applies to optical people too. While the remnants of the mass-market culture are still pervasive in optical, there are those who have endeavored to make art and offer alternatives. This ain’t the glasses for $99 crowd.

When the art they make is particularly good and valued by those who procure it, these artists are rewarded with loyalty and trust, valuable resources in a low trust world.

There is much (seemingly incessant) talk in the optical community about consolidation and monolithic, controlling competitors who want to maintain the mass market status quo. Yes, they are real and formidable. But they do not make art.

Making art is the independent eyewear purveyor’s salvation, and staying connected to an avidly loyal and trusting group of patrons is the way to success. The tools are available to everyone.

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