"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 2 March 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

More Things Change


S Stands for Sell
"I'm a digital storyteller, let me demonstrate: 1001001010011..." They don't call him "the Duke" for nuthin'.
Five years ago today in Suck.

As I clamber onto the two-seater Honda behind Simha, my new 24-year-old friend and tour guide, I'm hoping for a full tour of Bangalore. I want the ride to expose me to some part of India's leading tech town that I wouldn't see on my own — something exotic. Instead, as we buzzsaw around, with Simha's faulty brakes and (of course) without helmets, one of the things that strikes me most — after the throngs of people, the riot of colors, the filth, the moonscape roads, the stench, the hair-raising traffic and the cows — is the advertising. With Bangalore's flourishing dot-com industry desperately vying for recruits and mindshare, the billboard business has seemingly ballooned.

The slick English-language slogans for "revolutionary" middleware applications and one-liner business plans writ in 1000-point type could easily be mistaken for those lining Route 101 outside San Francisco Airport. But there's something off about the graphics here — specifically the typography. The signs' letters are all factory-second quality, the straight lines a bit wobbly, the spacing a bit out of true. And that's because most of the billboards in India, even for the most ultradvanced laser-enabled global-economy wireless Web wunderproduktion, are still painted freehand. Subtly but literally, Indian IT companies advertise that their claims of new-century cybadvancement may still be a few chips shy of a server farm.

Make no mistake: Internet-based tech is booming, bringing unprecedented prosperity to hundreds of thousands of the country's best-educated citizens. The energy, drive and outright intellectual brilliance the country is putting into its tech industry are breathtaking. But there's a good measure of wishful thinking in India's silicon fantasies — the wish that anyone in this extraordinarily complicated, sensory-overloading country could completely transcend the reality of their being, ultimately, in India.

There were many reasons for a Suckster to make the trip to the Subcontinent: I could find fantastic business plans to mock and then steal, or at least a refreshingly nostalgic whiff of delusional Internet optimism. Perhaps there would be some nonsensically risky, currency-leveraged enterprises to invest in. And there was the almost guaranteed shot at bacterial dysentary (no five-star hotels on the Suck budget) — clearly an offer too good to refuse. Along the way I'd take tea with the country's wealthiest software baron; befriend Bangalore's own ersatz Kozmo.commies, crash a sweetheart high-tech real-estate deal, meet one of India's new accidental Internet feminists, and see what may be the world's most gapingly large digital divide, first-hand.

And I didn't even get sick until the very last day.

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Speak your mind about today's Suck
Goes to India

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Money Changes Everything
The Billionaire Socialist
Those Crazy Kids and Their Cult
From Hyderbad to Worse
Masterbuilders on the March!

Next...if you're reading this, you're not a poor illiterate teenager!

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