Thinking out loud about Rorshok
The main thing Rorshok does is produce ten-minute weekly audio updates about what's happening in a specific country. They are informal but concise and don’t have ads. Although in English, they are produced in the country they cover and they cover the topics of importance in those countries. We are doing this for a few reasons: First, we are interested in people who move around to different countries and who speak other languages and are interested in the rest of the world. It is not easy to get a general idea of what is going on in a particular country, even if you are living there. Second, these updates are audio because almost everybody spends too much time on screens and you can listen to something while walking or cooking or otherwise using your eyes for something other than looking at a screen. We are piloting five countries but intend to do more.
We also sell t-shirts. We are hoping we can sell enough that it will fund the updates. Why t-shirts and why are our t-shirts different and special? We know the guy who grows the cotton. His name is Gary, and he only grows organic unbleached cotton. Unbleached cotton by the way has much better UV sun resistance than bleached and dyed cotton. We know where the cotton is ginned, where it is spun, where it is knit, where it is sewn, and where it is printed (with water-based ink by the way), all of which is within the US. We think knowing where your clothes are made each step of the way is a good thing. But it is difficult. Try it.
And not to be a big downer, but cotton covers 2.4% of the world's farmland, but uses 16% of the world's insecticides. It is the fourth largest consumer of chemicals in agriculture. More than half the pesticides used in low-GDP countries are for cotton. All that stuff stays in cotton clothes, in the soil, in groundwater, and in the farmers' bodies who grow it. At the same time, the Shopping Industrial Complex encourages people to spend their time looking at new clothes to buy, to spend their time shopping and to buy more clothes than they need to want. We are interested in selling things that are timeless, won't go out of style, are built to last, and are made to high standards including respecting the people who make them. We're starting with t-shirts. The shirts we sell now are the only t-shirts we could find that are grown, ginned, spun, knit, sewn, and printed completely in the US. They are organic and unbleached. Making them the most environmentally gentle new t-shirt you can buy in the US. We want to see how this goes and if it works, we will sell more t-shirts and other stuff.
The third thing we are doing relates to reading. Reading is incredible. Underappreciated. But in our era of screens, undervalued. There is endless text to read. There are endless rabbit holes to follow by clicking links. Some of us have a hard time reading an article, essay, or even story to the end if it’s on a screen and spend an incredible amount of time on our phones, scrolling through feeds, in a way that is specifically designed to keep us scrolling and “sharing” rather than focusing and understanding…Paper is a much better way to read than a screen. But the dimensions of paper were created for ledgers, binders, briefcases, and writing on with a pen, folding, and putting in envelopes, all things that have largely disappeared. Books and magazines are great but they are not as portable as they could be and take significant resources to print. So we have developed software to put text into a format designed to be printed, carried around or mailed, and read. It’s a way to make a booklet, just of text, that is a quarter the size of a regular sheet of paper. Printing regular sheets of paper to read somehow feels a bit banal, a bit sad, certainly not beautiful. The only really easy way to create text for people to read is to have it come from and end up on screens. We have made a way that is the simplest, easiest way to create a portable beautiful little book for up to about eighteen thousand words. All you need is access to a duplex printer that will print on both sides of the sheet. We call these things Ourzines. They are coming soon.
So in a break with more routine ways of changing the world, Rorshok has not identified problems that we have tried to isolate to their essence, then walked it back to interim objectives so we can create some designated preconceived change. We are more just trying to create new ways to look at and experience things we may do or want to do in our lives. Ideally, new ways that might shake things up a bit for those who try them. We respect those who identify problems and design solutions but that’s just not us. We are more interested in thinking of new methods by which we can each see the world and our lives in a way we have not seen them before. Sort of like art. But less artsy. And less art-like.
In theory, there could be an organization or a company that did these kinds of projects or any other types of projects and could take in money doing it, and support the infrastructure necessary to do those cool things with those funds. It wouldn’t have any profit, or let’s call it “leftover money” that would go to the shareholders, but rather all the revenue would support these various efforts in one way or another. But it would not need to ask foundations or rich people for funds because it could make enough to allow it to do useful or interesting things for the world. Some of the stuff they did would make money, other stuff may need to be cross-subsidized.
This entity is possible to imagine, the question is how would it start? What path would best ensure its success? Is there anything in theory to prevent this entity from becoming enormous?
What type of entity should it start as?
How can it do what it will do, create what it will create, test what it needs to test while affording the necessary administration and compliance?
Profit is the typical measure of success. With no profit how does it measure its success?
It will likely start with centralized decision-making, how does it decentralize? To whom?
How best to assemble a diverse group to make decisions? Are they owners? Managers? Is there a board?
How at the start does it get financing?
What do those who give it funds receive in return?
How can the costs of the people who run it stays low but how can they be rewarded for success?
People may want to volunteer or help in the mission, how can they be rewarded, inspired, and managed? What would they want in order to work towards the mission?
Should it be as transparent as possible? And if so how?
Assuming it involves people around the world, where is it “located”, what jurisdiction is it under?
These are some of the things we are trying to figure out. This is what we mean when we say we are an experiment. We aren’t sure of the answers to any of these questions yet, but every three weeks or so we will send out some thoughts about them and hopefully some answers we have come across. And some new questions that have come up.
I’ve been talking about “we” as I write this. As with all efforts, a very important question, and maybe the most important question is who is the “we”? Usually, that is the CEO or senior management team. We don’t want to operate like that if we can figure out a way not to. We hope that there are others in the world who will be interested in this big project and will have ideas and skills they will share so that our “we” can get bigger.
Thanks for coming along with us. It will be fun and interesting.