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inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #101 of 150: 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.?
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #102 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #103 of 150: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #104 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #105 of 150: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #106 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #107 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #108 of 150: 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
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #109 of 150: 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
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #110 of 150: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #111 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #112 of 150: 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."
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #113 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #114 of 150: 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
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #115 of 150: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #116 of 150: 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
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #117 of 150: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #118 of 150: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #119 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #120 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #121 of 150: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 13 Jul 00 06:57
    
Exactly. And I think it's the pond scum that Paulina's writing about.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #122 of 150: 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.....
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #123 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #124 of 150: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #125 of 150: 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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