Steve Cisler on Sat, 12 May 2001 19:57:22 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ruins of a new economy

To the organizers of Tulipomania in Amsterdam: pat yourself on the back
but don't dislocate your shoulder.


May 13, 2001 New York Times Magazine

The Peculiar Ruins of the New Economy


We used up the zeitgeist of the 1990's, and now we're trying to sell it
off. In the photograph at right, taken at the Santa Clara Convention
Center, there are rows and rows of secondhand monitors, hard drives and
keyboards ready for auction. But it's really the spirit of a decade that's
being put on the remainder desk. For Sale: One Previously Owned Cultural
Moment/Now Slightly Embarrassing. It's goodbye to the epoch -- which must
have lasted all of seven years -- in which people chatted excitedly about
free-agent nations, distance being dead, I.P.O.'s, the long boom and those
dot-com ads during the Super Bowl that showed global children united by
the wonders of instant communication. One minute you've got zip-drive
techies pulling all-nighters amid their look-at-me-I'm-wacky workstations,
and the next moment -- poof -- it seems so stale. Suddenly, it doesn't
really matter much if the speed of microprocessors doubles with the square
root of every lunar eclipse (or whatever Moore's Law was).

And so just like a used-bong sale in 1978 or a yellow-tie auction in 1990,
scenes like this, replicated across the country, bring a psychological
decade to a sobering close. What started out as the biggest revolution in
communications since Gutenberg ends up as a giant yard sale. Ironists will
note that the technological revolution, which was supposed to move us
beyond materialism, certainly is producing a lot of junk. Schadenfreuders,
on the other hand, are now getting more pleasure out of the dot-com
collapse than the dot-commers ever got out of their ascent.

But scenes like this one are sweetly sad more than anything. We Americans
produce miserable ruins. While other empires leave behind the glories of
their civilizations -- the Parthenon, the Colosseum -- we leave behind the
detritus of our unsustainable enthusiasms. In our homes, most of us have a
closet where we keep the remains of failed hobbies, the beer-making kit,
for instance, as well as the binoculars and the Audubon guides. The
dot-com moment was the same sort of thing on a massive scale. There was
this new activity that seemed so fresh and engrossing, and it was going to
herald a new era in the human spirit. People left respectable publications
and Wall Street firms to work at Web outfits with names like Suck and They stocked up on all this gear. But then it didn't fulfill the
dreams, which were sweet and noble if a little unrealistic.

Of course, people are still using computers. And somebody will buy all the
machines in the picture. What's gone is the sense that the people who are
using the stuff are on the cutting edge of history and everyone else is
road kill. Some of the Internet geeks really did believe this, and because
they believed it, and were making squazillions of dollars believing it,
the rest of us paid attention. Palo Alto and Redmond seemed like places
where history was made, the epicenters of a decade's self-consciousness,
the way Woodstock was in the 60's and Wall Street was in the 80's.

Now we're at one of those pivot moments, when one fascination pales and
the next object of our entrancement and contempt hasn't come into view.
What will it be? Biotech? Religion? Only Madonna knows for sure. In the
meantime, I find myself somehow resenting the unceremonious way we say
goodbye to idealistic illusions. The mere fact that the dreams don't come
true doesn't mean that it's all right to go ahead and cannibalize them for
spare parts. We should burn them, Viking style, in a great funeral pyre. A
bonfire of the buzz. Let's take this end-of-decade moment to celebrate the
American ability to come up with an endless series of impossible dreams.

Steve Cisler
4415 Tilbury Drive
San Jose, California 95130
408 379 9076

"There are some places where the road keeps going."  - Bud Parker

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