What’s Your Coke?

The artist Andy Warhol had one of the greatest quotes ever about America. He said

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. 

All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

Warhol (1928-1987) didn’t live long enough to see the internet or to imagine what impact such a thing could have. I think the internet is the greatest tool of democratization ever created, and — believe it or not — fishing has been part of the vanguard of that movement.

I say “believe it or not,” because our industry too often lags behind the rest of the world, behind the rest of marketing and manufacturing, behind the rest of communications and behind the rest of the economy.

One area where fishing hasn’t fallen behind is in the democratization of information through the internet … and before that through television, radio and print. For as long as there’s been mass communication, we in the fishing industry have tried to share our story, to educate others and to bring them deeper into the sport.

Think about it this way. If you want the very best education available in America, you take classes at Harvard, Yale or the University of Georgia. (I bet you can guess where I received my degrees). The problem is, of course, that those institutions are finite. There’s a limit to how many students they can accept. And because they’re finite and because there will always be more people interested in attending these schools than there are available places, the price of tuition is extremely high.

Bottles by Andy Warhol (1962)

This is not all bad. Part of me believes that the very best of anything should be reserved for those who work the hardest to get it and who deserve it the most. But such exclusivity regarding resources that are artificially finite is becoming a thing of the past.

A top-flight education is “artificially” finite now. A hundred years ago, it was legitimately finite. The best schools only had the physical space to handle a certain number of students. Now the lectures of the best professors can be delivered digitally, to every computer in the world. A student in Madagascar could conceivably get a Harvard education without ever leaving her hometown. She might not get the full Ivy League “experience,” but she could get the education, and she could get it from the greatest minds that Harvard has to offer.

In 2017, there’s really no reason that anyone who wants it can’t get lessons from the best and brightest in any discipline. If we captured Einstein’s lectures from the 1930s and ’40s, we could disseminate them now to legions of aspiring scientists at little cost.

I believe that this will inevitably happen. And I think it will have far-reaching consequences. Eventually, people across the world will be educated by the best, irrespective of where they live or what they can afford to pay.

It may not happen in my lifetime … or yours. But it’s inevitable.

Of course, it’s already happened in the fishing world. If I want to learn how to fish a hollow-bodied frog, I can go to YouTube and watch countless videos of Dean Rojas telling me exactly how to do it. It’s almost like being in the boat with him, and — having been in the boat with him — I can tell you that Dean Rojas is the Einstein of hollow-body frog fishing.

The shift I’m waiting for is not the democratization of these educational materials and opportunities, it’s the flip side of the same trend. It’s what’s holding us back and diluting a positive movement.

Anytime you democratize something like the web, you give access to the masses. In the process, hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands and eventually millions of people move in and declare themselves equal to the real experts. They’re drinking the same Coke as the president. They’re fishing the same frog as Dean Rojas. They think that makes them just as good, just as expert.

Of course, it doesn’t. All it does is give them a platform. All it does is muddy the water and make it more difficult to find the material we really want. With democratization comes a war on expertise.

I don’t like it, but we can’t escape it.

The question is, how do we use the positives of this democratization to benefit our businesses and the fishing industry? And how do we avoid the negatives?

What’s your Coke?