"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 19 August 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

What I Saw at the Digital Revolution


[Book News]

The brief history of the net can

be neatly pasted onto the

journey of the phrase "for

dummies" through its shifting

appropriations and applications.

With the advent of net guides,

the phrase leapt from a

derogatory descriptor to a

demographic one, and when IPOs

lapped up mind share, the words

were less descriptive than

directive. Now we find ourselves

on the crashing crest of the

next net-propelled wave - that

of the net.book - and "for

dummies"? One can foresee it as

a dedication.



The bookmark was always a dubious

metaphor, one that highlighted

the digerati's sense of faith in

the future as much as it did

their dependence on the past.

The meretricious adoption of a

print trope was not so much

inappropriate as it was

optimistic - "bookmarking" a URL

connoted permanence: permanence

of location, permanence (or at

least consistency) of content,

and, importantly, permanence of

employment for those who flocked

to the web's silicon-based



Now we know that it's link rot

that's here to stay, and that

content sometimes crawls faster

than search engines. As for

employment? It seems like a good

time to hedge one's bets, like,

say, with a book contract.


[Pub Weekly]

Rumors exist to be believed, so

who are we to argue with what

the wires have buzzed with

lately? Talk around shop has

turned from stock options to

reprint rights, as content

generators and producers alike

struggle to amend employment

contracts with one hand and dial

John Brockman with another.

Everyone's got a story to tell,

but the question remains as to

whether the public wants to

listen. It was difficult enough

to bring browsers to content

sites - what makes anyone think

that those who walk the aisles

of Barnes and Noble will come

any more easily?



Sure, there's been a trickle of

hard-bound but softheaded

histories and memoirs already,

and it's only a matter of time

before we get Vox ported through

Eudora, but only a scattered few

in the industry have either the

clout to push through in the

former genre or the imagination

to make it in the latter. Most

are hoping for a gentle mix of

the two, a Reese's Cup of a book

that salts its vague "I was

there" insights with incestuous

but tame innuendo.


It's the very excesses of web

business that foretell the

paucity of decent books about

it: an apparently insatiable

appetite for content gave

legions of inexperienced or

second-rate writers entree and a

resume. The people who've been

here to see it happen won't be

able to say what they saw very

well. And pitching their stories

as "insider accounts" won't help

much: being an insider is easy

if you draw the circle wide




The lopsided growth patterns of

new media companies could

translate into a dozen proposals

loosely based on riding in the

elevator with Louis Rossetto,

all based on the same

supposition: "Look at Louis -

could you make up a character

like that?"


Well, frankly, yes - and then

some. History and literature

alike are filled with

"visionaries." What makes any

one of these characters

interesting is the degree to

which their "visions" can be

portrayed with psychological and

personal detail. We want to get

inside these leaders' heads, not

have them described to us.

Unfortunately, one suspects that

the long arm of NDAs will

squelch potential authors from

giving readers the lurid (if

perhaps actionable) detail they've

paid for.



Weaned on nighttime soaps and The

Bonfire of the Vanities, it

makes sense that new media

youngsters would try to squeeze

a novel or a book out of what

they do for a living. But any

book that relies solely on an

employment milieu for mass

appeal had better be set in a

brothel, because despite all our

talk of reach-arounds and

prostituting ourselves, there is

nothing inherently sexy about

going to work.



Onetime Suckster Po Bronson got

in on the tail of the Wall

Street book rush. He must be

determined not to repeat his

late-bloomer mistake, as his

next book, The First 20 Million

Is Always the Hardest, has

gotten out of the gate early

enough that "A Silicon Valley

Novel" can still be used as a

subtitle, rather than a catalog

heading. Indeed, there's hope

that Bronson's book will stand

out for more than its timing -

he seems to realize that what's

interesting about work is not

what happens there, but how it

affects us.


But even that may not be enough.

While Wall Street produced a few good

books - Liar's Poker and Barbarians

at the Gate in addition to Bonfire -

Michael Lewis himself admits

that these books have faded from

both consciousness and

relevancy. He writes, rather,

that the exercise of making

money is too ordinary to sustain

a classic.


The would-be Wolfes of Way New

Journalism would be wise to

remember that the only thing

more ordinary than making money

is losing it.

courtesy of the Ann O'Tate