jazz & plastic
This page discusses media scepticism, infatuation and
received wisdom about dotcoms, the 'new economy' and telecommunications
during the boom and crash.
It covers -
Old and new journals, newspapers and broadcast programs
understandably embraced the idea of an exciting 'new economy'
centred on the internet, one that
defy traditional notions about profitability
iconoclastic gurus and unwashed young entrepreneurs
who'd suddenly become billionaires courtesy of "the
the death of 'old business' (eg the 'old media' 'dinosaurs')
a cornucopia of goodies for young and old
Richard Barbrook perceptively commented, in the digital
millennium we'd all be rich and hip (although apparently
the geeks, private equity fund managers and public relations
czars would be richer and hipper).
The bubbles lifted the fortunes of self-consciously new
economy journals such as Industry Standard, Fast
Company, Business 2.0, Forbes ASAP
(under George Gilder), Wired and Red Herring.
It is perhaps unsurprising that several expired soon after
Past communication revolutions,
such as the telegraph and radio, have been marked by proliferation
of journals for the new industry and the general public,
such as The Telegrapher and Radio Age,
now mostly mouldering in the dustier stacks of major libraries.
They have also been marked by enthusiasm in much of the
existing media about investment opportunities, elimination
of what would now be characterised as the business cycle,
enhanced social relationships and cultural efflorescence.
It is rewarding, for example to compare the Bulletin
of 1927 and 1997 or the Wall Street Journal and
New York tabloids in the same years.
Similarities in what is said - and how it is said - reflect
the enduring shape of human expectations and use by journalists/editors
of templates (past stories provide a model for conceptualising
new technologies, new booms).
Similarities in coverage also reflect the nature of much
of the mass media during periods of boom, concerned with
entertainment rather than analysis, affirming received
wisdom and even celebrating achievement rather than questioning
whether the boom is made from air.
Journalists, after all, are people - just like investors
and advocates such as brokers. Many are dependendent on
media releases, interviews with promoters and experts.
Most do not question the 'reality check' provided by rival
publications and peers, so that journalism is a chorus
of assent, consumers get the media that they deserve and
'investigative journalism' is rediscovered every ten years
cheerleading and catcalls
Although we are wary about the condescension of posterity,
the lack of intellectual rigour - and indeed disregard
for fact - in much of the 'new economy' literature during
the bubble is quite striking. In essence, much of the
literature functioned as cheerleading - lots of noise,
colour, movement, adulation of heroes, expressions of
contempt for those unfortunates (naysayers, regulators,
the 'offline' and 'old industry') who were not surfing
the digital zeitgeist.
The bubble was also inflated by 'dried trees encased in
cardboard', ie traditional book publishing. Arguably more
money was made writing about electronic publishing (and
the death of print) than was made by electronic publishers.
The dot-com book became a genre, extending from triumphalist
tomes such as Dyson's Release 2.0, Gilder's Telecosm
and Rheingold's Homesteading the Electronic Frontier
to profiles such as Proddow's Heroes.com and
Kait & Weiss's Digital Hustlers: Living Large & Falling
Hard in Silicon Alley to corporate vade mecums
embracing The One Minute Internet Manager, Siegel's
Futurize Your Enterprise and Evans & Wurster's
Blown To Bits, often from our favourite fiction
publisher Harvard Business School Press.
Others, echoing Fukuyama's proclamation of the end of
history, forecast a perpetual boom. Works such as Glassman
& Hassett's 1999 Dow 36,000: The New Strategy
for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market
looked less prescient in 2000, in contrast to The Internet
Bubble by Perkins & Perkins.
dot com magazines
In characterising The Industry Standard as a
paradigm for the dot com bubble one critic commented that
was founded in 1998, grew so fast that by 2000 it published
more ad pages than any magazine in American history,
and then, in about the time it takes to blink in astonishment,
collapsed in a puddle of debts and bewilderment.
Cukier sniffed that
Industry Standard ... aimed to be "a younger,
hipper Business Week". The senior editors
at Red Herring modeled the magazine on The
Economist, with a splash of Vanity Fair
for flavor. Wired, the granddaddy of mass-market
tech titles, was considered vulnerable since it was
more lifestyle- than business-minded. Fast Company
geared itself to that pathetic stratum of middle managers
who fed off the tech industry, flattering its readers
as "Road Warriors". Business 2.0
- with its tagline "New Economy, New Rules, New
Leaders" - aimed even lower, offering formulaic
"how-to" articles accompanied by a sausage-shaped
mascot. Time-Warner's late entry into the sweepstakes,
a publication it unashamedly named eCompanyNow,
aimed at those middle-aged organization men who knew
they didn't 'get it' but knew they had to pretend that
Memoirs and studies include Fred Turner's From Counterculture
to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network,
and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (Chicago: Uni
of Chicago Press 2006), Michael Wolff's BurnRate
(London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1999), James Ledbetter's
Starving to Death on $200 Million: The Short, Absurd Life
of The Industry Standard (New York: PublicAffairs