The first gold rush of digital capitalism

From Elon Musk, by Ashlee Vance, pg 10-11. I think this understates the degree to which ‘playing hard’ was driven by a potent mix of fear and aspiration. But it’s a nice overview of circumstances which intruige me:

And, in 2000, San Francisco had been over- taken by the boom of all booms and consumed by avarice. It was a wonderful time to be alive with just about the entire populace giving in to a fantasy— a get- rich- quick, Internet madness. The pulses of energy from this shared delusion were palpable, producing a constant buzz that vibrated across the city. And here I was in the center of the most depraved part of San Francisco, watching just how high and low people get when consumed by excess. Stories tracking the insanity of business in these times are well- known. You no longer had to make something that other people wanted to buy in order to start a booming company. You just had to have an idea for some sort of Internet thing and announce it to the world in order for eager investors to fund your thought experiment. The whole goal was to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time because everyone knew on at least a subconscious level that reality had to set in eventually.

Valley denizens took very literally the cliché of working as hard as you play. People in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties were expected to pull all- nighters. Cubicles were turned into temporary homes, and personal hygiene was abandoned. Oddly enough, making Nothing appear to be Something took a lot of work. But when the time to decompress arrived, there were plenty of options for total debauchery. The hot companies and media powers of the time seemed locked in a struggle to outdo each other with ever- fancier parties. Old- line companies trying to look “with it” would regularly buy space at a concert venue and then order up some dancers, acrobats, open bars, and the Barenaked Ladies. Young technologists would show up to pound their free Jack and Cokes and snort their cocaine in porta- potties. Greed and self- interest were the only things that made any sense back then.

The idea I’m playing with is that a certain culture developed in this febrile atmosphere, before eventually becoming relatively autonomous from it through the mediation of tech books, magazines and blogs, as well as the diffusion of people into other aspiring tech hubs. The culture has become more extreme since then, while also becoming detached from the state of exceptionalism which initially licensed these extremes.


Categories: Digital Sociology

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *