"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 May 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Generation Hex



It's a tediously common observation among the intellectual set that America is a class-unconscious nation. Or at least that's what we think the eggheads mean when they tell us we have no class. But the real reason so little firepower is being applied to class warfare is that we're too busy with battles among generations.


The latest cannonade has been discharged by George Colony, a doyen of the analyst scene whose roots are in client-server technology — as clear a sign of senescence as plaid pants. Colony, chairman of pay-by-the-quote soundbite shop Forrester Research declared in a recent jeremiad that most dotcom companies were hollow and vapid, just like the folks who run them.


We'd be the first to agree. But Colony's screed takes a curious turn toward the end: he declares that the "Dot Com generation will get squeezed by more skilled baby-boom managers and aggressive Generation Y newcomers." He never uses the words, but simple process of elimination leaves us with a curious equivalence: "Dotcom" = "Generation X."


X marks the spot! Finally, someone's torn the mask off those nefarious dotcommunists — why, they're nothing more than early-'90s slackers clad in khakis and armed with business plans. Even worse, they're leading good citizens straight to Hooverville. Go ahead and laugh at aging tech seer John Dvorak's recent prediction that young dot-com executives will plunge the economy into "a depression that will rival 1929." We'll see how funny it is when your family's living on ketchup soup.



It would be beyond even Suck's high level of hypocrisy to condemn Colony or Dvorak for bringing the generational war into the cubicle hutch; after all, we fired the first shot. In any event, what makes these twenty- or thirtysomething kids (or more accurately, post-kids) so easy to loathe isn't that they're running Internet companies; it's that they're employed at all. Douglas Coupland's twisted spawn were never supposed to get real jobs. The early '90s may be hard to remember, but pop in some Nirvana CDs and it may start coming back to you: George Bush was in the Oval Office, Saddam was in Kuwait, and the economy was in a Long Boom-defying tailspin. Instead of scrambling madly to recruit any body they could get their hands on, companies were rightsizing, and a new college grad could look forward to a job behind the counter at Piggly Wiggly, not a career.


Then came the Internet. Ready-made for overeducated kids with short attention spans, the Net was a full-employment act for Generation X. And when the Web became real business instead of a kicky sideshow, who could blame the X-ers in the know for seizing power?



Colony takes dotcom CEOs to task for creating vapid, hollow companies, but that goes right in line with their generation's low expectations for the working world. If big, stable companies laid off your dad, why on earth would you want to create a big, stable company? Better to ride the IPO waves and take baby-boomer investors for a fast buck.


But the market cops have busted up that particular party, and dotcom CEOs, with companies running out of money, may not have long careers. Indeed, another one of Colony's pronouncements sounds like it reads directly from Coupland's novel: "Former Dot Com managers will end up working for their elders and their juniors." So? That puts them right where everyone expected they'd be, plus or minus a few billion dollars.


More curious than Colony's fulminations or Dvorak's prognostications, however, are the New York media's attempts to make sense of these nouveaux riches. First came Time's September cover story, "GetRich.com," which observed, rightly, that "mostly, it's the money." Then came twin-barreled attacks from Harper's Bazaar and The New York Times, charging that the women of Silicon Valley were nothing more than — gasp! — gold diggers. An April item in the late, unlamented Details covered some ground that had already been broken by Wired way back in Old '96 — alerting readers to the new, hip jargon for $20 bills: "dotcom food coupons." (As if any self-respecting business development exec would ever pay with anything except a Corporate AmEx or perhaps money beamed from his PalmPilot.) Noted cybercrank Paulina Borsook labels the dotcom invasion of San Francisco as "twerps with 'tude."



As Borsook cogently observes, dotcommies are nothing more than the yuppies of the '90s. The baby boomers had their turn at the trough; now its Generation X's turn to get some. Despite Colony's predictions, those born between 1963 and 1975 seem to have a corner on the top spots. Jerry Yang is still Yahoo's eminence grise (or eminence purple and yellow, as it were); Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen dumped baby-boomer boss Steve Case to run his own show; even Excite's 28-year-old cofounder Joe Kraus ended up with graybeards like Richard Gringas reporting to him when Excite merged with @Home. And all the e-tailers that are rapidly taking on water? If you look closely you'll find that most of those dinghies are being skippered by greedy boomers lured from conventional industry. Perhaps those Coupland-era expectations should be revised upwards.


Kids today, with their hair, and their music, and their startups! And worst of all — their money.

courtesy of Jonathan Van Decimeter
picturesTerry Colon

Jonathan Van Decimeter