Owen Thomas (dither) Tue 11 Jul 00 18:36
Interesting. Seiff's lack of empathic imagination seemed to extend to workplaces, colleagues, and clients he'd left behind. To what extent is the "I've-got-mine" attitude of technolibertarianism toxic to the formation of real businesses as well as real friendships, communities, etc.?
Fuzzy Logic (phred) Tue 11 Jul 00 20:49
High-tech was more of a meritocracy when money wasn't raining down on it at unprecedented levels. While the cyberlib attitude was always around, it was really a sincerely felt personal attitude and didn't take on its more aggressive and patronizing tone until the real money started showing up in about 1994-95. Charles Ferguson has some interesting comments on this in his book "High Stakes No Prisoners," much of which is about his difficulties in securing financing for his startup, Vermeer, which sold FrontPage to Microsoft around the time the money really flowed. Ferguson is somewhat bitter about the effort he had to make to get a useful product going (OK, you can argue about the quality but not the fact that FrontPage is wildly successful in the mass market), as opposed to the superficiality of many projects that had gobs of dough shoved at them later. In my personal opinion, the validation that the vast sums of VC and IPO money gave to the cyberlib stance moved the whole phenomenon from annoying but tolerable to excruciatingly unavoidable. There is a sort of hyper- Calvinism at work here where the fortune you make (often by sheer luck or by actively ripping off those you do business with) not only elevates your stature but guarantees you a place in the Kingdom come.
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Tue 11 Jul 00 22:09
Fred touches on an issue I've been wanting to verbalize, myself. Paulina, do you think you might be giving short shrift to people in the Internet/tech economy who are not really driven by money, but rather, a genuine desire to create and do cool stuff? I'm as appalled as anyone at the blitzkrieg of MBA yupsters on this economy-- and for that matter, this city. (And in my personal observation, they have little practical knowledge of the Internet or computers.) In my view, this influx of money-obsessed, khaki-wearing twits is a very recent, and essentially tangential overlay to a world which is, at heart, still powered by programmers and designers and other tinkerers who don't primarily care about money. For example, your writing doesn't seem to map very well to the Linux-based IPOs from last year, when all these libertarian hackers were famously having the damndest time trying to buy/ afford their stock options-- because while they might be free market on philosophical grounds, in actuality, few of them were even *in* the market. Comments?
Owen Thomas (dither) Tue 11 Jul 00 22:57
Paulina, please take your own whack at this, but I feel obligated to note that for every Red Hat trying to give options to Linux hackers, there was a Linuxcare that was driven by suits and trying to ride the wave without contributing anything real.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 11 Jul 00 23:13
wjames, i'll respond to you tomorrow...must go to bed, a day of being an author of modest net.fame starts early tomorrow... otoh i agree with <phred>, as usual...and i actually take this riff on directly in the sept/oct issue of mark dery's 'artbyte', mentioned above. john battelle, publisher of the industry standard, was interviewed by a former wired uk editor --- and boy does battelle go on about free-market fundamentalism, divine will, manifest destiny. truly amazing stuff --- and i annotate it... as for owen's comment about lack of empathic imagination being rather widely distributed in the population, i blame it all on warren buffet [g]. by which i mean, he -really- has popularized this stockholder theory of value uber alles. so it's shareholders before customers, employees, and certainly, community. this notion has become so widespread throughout all of society...existed before the dotcom bubble, but the dotcom bubble certainly grabbed onto it. one friend who shall remain nameless told me that at one of his previous employers, people were glad to be laid off, depending on where they were with their vesting, for the layoffs could make the stock prices rise and if one could also cash out that quarter...weird stuff...anyway, the number of times i have heard net/net, end of the day, bottom line --- as applied to everything. and particularly techies thinking like capitalists...well lots of things cant be/arent net/net, end of the day, bottom line...yet this is such a reductive worldview that it excludes any other human faculties and capacities, experiences and desires. we are not all, after alll, solely rational economic actors...
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Wed 12 Jul 00 02:19
> for every Red Hat trying to give options to > Linux hackers, there was a Linuxcare that was > driven by suits and trying to ride the wave without > contributing anything real Sure, and I think this actually validates my point. The suits-and-khakis crowd will jump on any bandwagon which smells of money, but in the end, they don't really understand Internet culture, neither are they part of it. Subsequently, most of them don't even really know how to create a useful (i.e. profitable) Internet service. In the end, that's still the province of highly creative hackers tinkering about on some Web app mostly because they think it's, well, cool. Sure, a lot of them have some odd, narrow-minded political views. But that's not really related to their status as I-got-mine millionaires-- more like their status as sheltered, socially awkward geeks who read way too much utopian science fiction. And it's wrong to conflate them with the MBA set. Anyway, hope Paulina gets a good night's sleep, and I look forward to her answers.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Wed 12 Jul 00 06:30
To run with the point Paulina made up there a little bit about the rich folks in Rhode Island back in the roaring twenties, even today people with more money seem less likely to pay their bills. At my apartment complex, tons of people pay their rent late, not because they can't afford it, but because they just don't care enough to pay their bills on time. They have enough money to just eat their late fees. It's bizarre to me, because it just seems so nonsensical to me. I also think that it's worth talking about the two different brands of libertarianism that pervade high tech these days. In my opinion, there's libertarianism come by honestly (that I still don't agree with) which is often held by real techies. They've lived a life where people are judged based all sorts of criteria other than merit, criteria that they tend to lose out on, like personality, or background, or school attended, or which fraternity you were in, or which car you drive, or how low your golf handicap is. Libertarianism provides a kind of rationalism that's easy for them to understand. One of the big problems with this brand of rationalism is that in a human society, mapping rationalism onto social constructs rarely works very well. Then there's the more cynical form of libertarianism that really grates on my nerves, and probably on most people's nerves as well. This is the libertarianism espoused by the MBAs who stink up the industry these days. For them, libertarianism is a "get out of compassion" free card that says that we shouldn't have to support the poor, or pay for public schools, or do anything else that would somehow come between them and their wealth. It seems to me that the big difference is between libertarians who vote for Libertarian candidates and "libertarians" who vote for Republicans. I can respect the former, though I can't agree with them. I'm just disgusted by the latter.
Wendy M. Grossman (wendyg) Wed 12 Jul 00 07:15
FWIW, Seiff's story is on one of the new dot-com-failure sites. I think's at http://www.startupfailures.com, but if it isn't it's at http://www.dotcomfailures.com or http://www.fuckedcompany.com. wg
Wendy M. Grossman (wendyg) Wed 12 Jul 00 07:21
btw, Paulina, I think if you look at Buffett's own writing, he isn't *just* concerned with shareholder value. And remember he's quite remarkably atypical for extreme wealth in that he still lives where he grew up, surrounded by people who have known him all his life. wg
Paulina Borsook (loris) Wed 12 Jul 00 07:36
this is probably true aboiut buffet. however, how his ideas have gotten out there is somethin else... i agree with the notion of two kinds of libertarianism, as defined here. prob is, they are flooding into each other in very unpretty ways. the mba- ish one borrows the hero/individualistic rhetoric of the techie-ish para- rational aynd randish one to both self-glamorize and self-justify; the techie one seems to ever more be borrowing the idea of monetizing and marketizing -everything-, as quickly as possible (gotta make those quarterly numbers and satisfy our institutional investors!). not a pretty picture. which is a partial response to wjames; of course i know of linux/open source folks who arent kazillionaires and love participating for the sport of good code and community recognition; and of course the invasion of the mbas, to a degree as never before, has been totally creepy. as part of this unsettling shift, i've certainly run into techies who say something along the lines of 'it's just not fun any more; doing stuff for the love of craft or because it's deeply interesting is just so not comme il faut now; so much of what gets funded now/is asked for now is that which can be quickly monetized, and not what's intellectually valuable'. at its worst, i sometimes think the last thing any investor wants is programming creativitiy: the business plan calls for a quart of c++ programmers over here, a dash of java over there.. tom jennings, who some of you may know of (fidonet, the little garden/internet wholesaling/early fundamental pc work), truly a genius/engineer/anarchist who in a strange sort of way is everything louis rossetto said a person ought to be --- commented to me sometime in the last year that the era of one person being able to come up with an idea and do something with it is long over. and he's now working as some supremo network operations guy somewhere! one of the probs we're having here is that 'high-tech' has become an overly broad term, that includes everyone from the person yes actually designing a chip somewhere down around milpitas to the unix wizard with the high-pitched snorting laugh to the 23 yr old barbie bunny marketing girl whose job it is to think about branding and eyeballs for deckchair.com. i realize that the term 'libertarian', as i am using it in a religious/cultural, and not strictly political, sense seems like i am using it to mean everything. but what i compare it to is rather like what would happen if an anthropologist from mars (i was using the term long before oliver saks did) came down to earth now and saw a married russian orthodox priest and a gay lay episcopalian community worker. they might think there were very different from each other, but to the martian they were far more alike in a judeo-christian way than say, a streetsweeper in benares and an indonesian with animist or islamic beliefs. all i've been trying to do is document the equiv of judeo-christian in this example --- and say it's distinctive, and different as a whole from the worldview/attitudes i've generally run into with people who work in publishing or academic science or filmmaking or or or...
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Wed 12 Jul 00 07:44
One thing I wonder if your book covers is the tension between the business types and the tech types. I find that there is an almost universal disdain among techies for the business-types that run the companies that they and their friends work for. They generally consider everyone in marketing and sales to be utter idiots. If the senior management comes from the business side of the house, they're generally considered to be idiots as well. In fact, among techies, I rarely find people who are actively seeking wealth, especially among the "wizard" level techies who are really into their jobs. I find programmers who day trade all day and are into the nice cars and big houses, but most of them are in the programming field because they figured out it would earn them more money than the alternatives. But the people who program for love rarely seem to care about how much they or their peers are paid. They'd do what they're doing for free (and indeed most do when they go home at night). I've seen big money change these sorts of people as well, but I still don't find them to be comparable to the business types that are, in my opinion, the real cancer on the industry.
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Wed 12 Jul 00 09:26
A repeated theme of discussion on a tech wizard mailing list I'm on is along the lines of "Hey, I just saw a salary survey that claims people like me are making $150K - can that be right?? Maybe I should ask for a raise."
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Wed 12 Jul 00 12:03
Money also can be a reason to stick with a job that's not so fun anymore. This is where you hear people semi-complaining about "golden handcuffs". Of course, if people *really* don't care about money it's a poor reason to stay. The broad popularity of shows like "Who Wants To Be A Millionare" and trips to Las Vegas suggest to me that "average" people (in America at least) are more like those MBA's than they like to think.
Wendy M. Grossman (wendyg) Wed 12 Jul 00 12:47
I think there's a lot of gambling going on, really: people are accepting crap wages, crap hours, and crap working conditions in the hope of winning big, and since almost everyone remotely connected to high tech knows someone who's made out, this lottery is very real to people. This is the point made by dotcomfailures.com, another of the shared-misery sites, where the owner has put up a calculator to show people how much they're really giving up when they take share options isntead of reasonable wages. wg
Paulina Borsook (loris) Wed 12 Jul 00 13:33
agreed about gambling. also tdb isnt really about the tension between the suits and the techies --- a tension though i see these days isnt as great as it once was. in some cases...
Paulina Borsook (loris) Wed 12 Jul 00 13:46
re: warren buffet, wasnt it he who was called in to rescue salamon bros when it got into such a mess in the 90s? i seem to recall reading a letter from buffet in their annual report of that year, and being very impressed with what he had to say and how he said it. straightforward, no b.s., etc
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Wed 12 Jul 00 16:06
> they might think there were very different from each other, but > to the martian they were far more alike Well Paulina, I think that's the thing which discomfits me: your thesis may seem valid to the martian, but to actual people living on earth, I don't know if it does. To someone who works in the Internet/tech industry, it probably seems fairly sketchy. (Albeit with some totally valid observations.) And for someone outside the industry, who's trying to understand it by reading your book, they're getting a portrayal that's so singularly focused, they likely don't come away with a well-rounded depiction. It's sort of like writing about the independent film/Sundance scene as nothing but a money-obsessed hunt for the next big score. There'd be truth to that description, but if you want to then say there's no real difference between Jim Jarmusch and Michael Eisner, we gotta talk. In this particular case, I think you're really stretching the term "libertarian" to an unmanageable length. In my experience, the Internet MBA types aren't libertarian in any political or cultural sense, at all: they're apolitical and anti-intellectual, not pro-free market or individualistic in any cultural, ideological, or philosophical sense of those terms. You seem to be defining "libertarian" as "They want to make a lot of money, and they don't care about anyone else"-- at which point, the word becomes rather meaningless. That description also applies to Republican, Bohemian Grove CEOs and Master of the Universe Wall Street yuppies from the 80's-- but I don't think that means they're "libertarian" in any useful sense. Also, doesn't that suggest they're part of a phonomenon which really has little to do with Internet/high tech, other than the industry's temporary buzz as being Where The Money Is?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Wed 12 Jul 00 16:31
wjames, this topic has drifted to all of us rattling on about the state of techie culture today. tdb itself is pretty focussed, and doesnt discuss this monmey culture issue in any primary way. read tdb, then see if your comment still makes sense to you...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 13 Jul 00 05:55
Thing is, though there's clearly a difference between Eisner and Jarmusch, they both have to work within the same business, and deal to some extent with the same 'business culture.' More specifically, Jarmusch has to navigate a reality that is more the property of guys like Eisner in order to make his films and get 'em distributed. Similarly, guys like Gates and Ellison, Gilder et al feed the reality that is the business culture in which technologies are developed and brought to market.... I just came out of a project where dozens of people were committed to a vision of a rich destination for 'whole living,' whatever you might take that to mean, but at the top this 'whole living' thing was just an object, a toy, a 'demographic' you could address; the reality was a cynical attempt to hit the IPO window and build some instant wealth. Having missed the window, the execs promptly dismantled the business and dispensed with the pieces however they could. So why would tech people be cynical about the guys on the business side of the equation? The tech and content people put their creative energies into something that is no more sustainable than the business guy's whims, and once you've seen dozens of people who were working toward a particular vision yesterday laid off today because the execs didn't get their rocks off in quite the way they'd expected, you do become cynical...or in my case, even more cynical than before. Paulina may have missed in some of the details, but I think she's done important work nailing this 'terribly libertarian' business culture and fostering debate about its nature. It's a given that greed-motivated slimeballs will always exist, but the general and correct attitude about 'em should be negative & dismissive, in my opinion, and not worshipful.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Thu 13 Jul 00 06:38
Who worships them? People who aren't involved at all, and the people who are the purveyors of this culture themselves, I think. I don't think I've ever met anyone who was directly involved with the greedheads in this industry that didn't think they were all pond scum, unless they were pond scum themselves.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 13 Jul 00 06:57
Exactly. And I think it's the pond scum that Paulina's writing about.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 13 Jul 00 08:39
hmm, i dunno. i have met some sweet buisness consultant types with good hearts who really do buyt all this business culture innoivation/revolution stufff, or who really do believe in the accelerated 'creative destruction' that so much of the dotcom silliness has been about, thinking it only a good thing, rather than total noise; i really have met plenty of swee smart young geeks who totally dont undersrtand the notion that there might be value in creating something that lasts, or that somethinjg of va;ue might not be marketizeable, or whose value the market might not recognize. and who dont know that some of the reall innovators/creators never got richer than god, and that many of the richer than god were simply speculators a la florida real estate in the 20s..... but again, while i do have things to say about this business culture, it is not the focus of tdb. the byusiness culture stuff is more what my commentaries have been about for the last few months, after completing tdb.....
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 13 Jul 00 13:28
I don't quite get that. I'm reading the book, and it definitely seems to be more about business culture than anything else. I mean, where else do you put Gilder and the bionomics crowd and various denizens of Silicon Valley than the business dimension? Even Barlow and the cypherpunks have tendrils into the world of business.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 13 Jul 00 15:36
i suppose you are right, jonl --- though it's not business culture in the way commenting on the culture of flip and flee would be.
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Thu 13 Jul 00 15:43
> More specifically, Jarmusch has to navigate a reality that is more > the property of guys like Eisner in order to make his films and get > 'em distributed. Actually, in this particular case, Jarmusch gets financing from folks in Europe and Japan, so he doesn't have to deal with Hollywood studios until distribution, if then. The point is, Jarmusch and other indy filmmakers like him are, of course, working in the same industry as Mike Eisner, but it'd be wrong to say they're all in it for the same reasons. Eisner's in it to boost Disney shareholder value; Jarmusch is in it because he loves film and expressing his art through that medium, with making a decent living living from it very secondary. The same is true, I think, for most programmers and engineers. > who really do believe in the accelerated 'creative destruction' > that so much of the dotcom silliness has been about, thinking it > only a good thing, rather than total noise Let me get this straight, Paulina: are you saying that all Internet/high-tech ventures are hype and scams, without any potential to ultimately improve the human condition for everyone?
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