Monday, July 25, 2016

Roger Babson and the Wisdom of Dogtown, Redux

If you are interested in hiking Dogtown, see here.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, is a beautiful fishing and summer community located on Cape Ann, adjacent to the town of Rockport.

Nested away from the shoreline between the two towns is an ancient neighborhood of about 3,600 acres once called the Common Settlement, but known today as Dogtown. At the time of the American Revolution, the Common Settlement was one of the town’s most prosperous areas, home to about 100 families. 

After the War of 1812, however, farmers seeking less rocky soil and residents desiring homes along now-peaceful beaches began to depart from the area.  The neighborhood gave way to the poor and outcast, faithfully captured in Anita Diamant’s The Last Days of Dogtown.  By 1830 the once prosperous area was abandoned, leaving behind old cellar holes and packs of feral, howling dogs.

Babson was an entrepreneur, investor,
naturalist, and historian.
During the Great Depression, Roger Babson (1875-1967), founder of Babson College, commissioned unemployed Finnish stone-cutters to carve inspirational inscriptions on some two dozen boulders spread throughout Dogtown. Babson's family, which owned the land, was entirely underwhelmed by the project.  In 1935 he wrote:
Another thing I have been doing, which I hope will be carried on after my death, is the carving of mottoes on the boulders at Dogtown, Gloucester, Massachusetts. My family says that I am defacing the boulders and disgracing the family with these inscriptions, but the work gives me a lot of satisfaction, fresh air, exercise and sunshine. I am really trying to write a simple book with words carved in stone instead of printed paper.
Today, Dogtown is dense woodland crisscrossed by hiking trails.  Dogtown Road is still the main thoroughfare and features the remains of cellar holes.  

And, like tweets left by a retreating glacier, Babson’s wisdom remains.  Some of the inscriptions are universal.  Some are quaint.  Some may have been tongue-in-cheek.  But for the stonecutters who needed the work, they must have been a godsend.  And for those who hike the area (as I did a few weekends ago), seeking out these boulders is like an Easter egg hunt.

These three inscriptions will give you the general drift, as well as an idea of Babson's sense of humor:

Here's a map that provides all of the inscriptions and their locations:

The Babson Boulder Map can be found here.

And here's a sense of how beautiful and historic the Common Settlement still is.

The Babson Reservoir
22 Dogtown Road, the home of Joseph Riggs
What's left of Dogtown Square, once the center of this thriving village.
As my daughter and I were hiking the trails searching for the next inscription (kind of GO Pokemon for Boomers), I got to thinking: What if a modern Roger Babson, someone wading through today's digital culture, were to inscribe wisdom on boulders?  How different would the advice be?  How universal and everlasting?  How quaint?

So I thought--why not cruise social media and look for updates, ways to carry on the work of Roger Babson, just as he had hoped?

The Boulders of Dogtown, 2016

First, what could be a nobler sentiment during the Great Depression than Babson's encouragement to "WORK"?  

But today? Doesn't "HACK" seem to capture the times better?  We can hack code, hack breakfast, hack relationships, heck: hack WORK.  

Inspired?  This all-purpose idea is even emblazoned on the the Facebook campus (at One Hacker Way, no less):

Further along the trail in Dogtown we run into another important Great Depression concept, "LOYALTY."

But what about today, in a world where "great" resumes show four career moves in seven years? Or where Fortune 500 companies lay employees off with the rise and fall of the economy?  How about this, instead:

With "PIVOT" in mind, you'd half-expect the next boulder in Dogtown to read, "LEAN START-UP."  But you'd be wrong, of course.  Because Roger had the quaint concept of "INDUSTRY," a word we hardly use today in its older sense of "hard, dedicated work."

And our modern Roger Babson?  Rather than "INDUSTRY," how about "DISRUPT"?  After all: HACK, PIVOT, DISRUPT; could three glacial boulders speak to the modern work spirit any better?

Now, here's some wisdom for all occasions--and I'm wondering if Babson had a particular family member in mind?

Where being punctual was once a virtue, today's sign of professional success is failure.  And fast.

Further along the trails in Dogtown, this enormous boulder suggests the existential. . .

. . .as does our modern version, courtesy of Gordon Gekko.

And then, Babson may have had servant-leadership in mind with this bit of wisdom to guide daily activities.

This modern nugget, channeling Steve Jobs, better reflects today's noble impulse.

Roger Babson, Great Depression:

Modern Roger Babson, 2016:

Roger Babson, Great Depression:

Modern Roger Babson, 2016.  Frankly, I couldn't decide between "MORE COWBELL" and "BE LIKE BILL."  So many memes, so few boulders.

And what must have been a real concern for Babson's unemployed stonecutters, hard at work in the woods of Dogtown:

While today, ripped from the pages of Facebook:

Would the stonecutters have even understood?  (Do you?)

And finally,  a piece of boulder-advice that dates back in America to Ben Franklin's autobiography, and certainly had application in the lean years of the 1930s.

But today, want security?  What better bit of wisdom could we leave to future generations, and on a boulder no less?  

Wisdom for the ages, 2016 style.