Homo homini rodentius est

Bubble Wrap

Listen very closely… do you hear it? That hissing you hear is the sound of air escaping from The Great Web 2.0 Scam. The signs are accumulating that the faux-economy of venture capital and Google ads that underpin an infinite number of worthless internet startups may finally have run its course: last Friday, Google “The Mother of All Bubbles” closed at $600.25 — down 20% from it’s intra-day high of $747.24 set last November 6 and far outpacing the 13% decline in the S&P 500 over the same period. And that may not be the worst — last week, the [dour pronouncements] of a media macher about declining prices for online advertising combined with numbers from Nielsen showing a [decline in search market share] for Google suggest that when Google presents their 4Q earnings on January 31 there could be some very sober faces standing around the foosball tables of Silicon Valley.

But when the history of this strange period is written I have a feeling that the peak of “irrational exuberance” in this bizarre bubble may well be seen to have occurred last week when [Business Week], [TechCrunch] and others published news that a company called Slide, founded by the guy who created PayPal, was valued at 500 million dollars. Slide, in case you aren’t familiar, is an online application that allows people to upload photos into a customized “slideshow” and then share their work of art (which, from looking at their site, consists mostly of slideshows of half-naked babes). That’s it. In a normal world this thing would be called a blog plug-in and people would say, “Oh, cool… stupid” and move on. To put this valuation in some perspective, it took Microsoft 10 years to reach a valuation of $500 million and that was just after they went public in 1986. Their operating systems were already on hundreds of millions of computers, Windows had just been released, they were about to release Excel, the cornerstone of their Office suite and they were generating about $200 million a year in revenue. That was what a half-billion dollar company looked like, then. Twenty years later, this is what one looks like:

Cool… stupid.

Here Come the Memorials

Columbia 1968 protest

Just like clockwork, the 1968 anniversary articles have begun. For creatively-challenged journalists across the country — but especially here in the East — 2008 should prove to be an irresistible “perfect storm” of then-and-now comparisons that filter current events through the dusty lens of that fateful year. Unpopular president executing an unpopular war? Check. An election year suffused with issues of race and class warfare? Check. Columbia University planning to expand into Harlem amid protests from long-time residents? Check. The New York Times kicks off the trend with a couple of articles in their Education section that describe resurgent activism on local campuses. A red diaper baby of 60’s radical parentage, Thai Jones (now a grad student at Columbia, natch), [writes] with unrestrained sympathy about recent protests on campus that show an abiding heritage of lefty commitment at the Ivy League school, while [another article] by (surprise!) a Columbia faculty member describes the recent reanimation of the Students for a Democratic Society at the tiny New School in Greenwich Village.

What both articles evidence more than anything else is a poignant nostalgia for a radical time that passed with the demographic blip that created it. Pace Dylan, the times changed. Jones reluctantly acknowledges in his piece that the modern Columbia protests (which included a short-lived hunger strike over a perceived lack of multicultural studies) failed when a far larger number of counter-protesters who were offended by the strikers’ tactics mobilized on Facebook, and the New School kids are clearly oblivious to the ill-fated history of the group they espouse. Perhaps a field trip is in order — all they have to do is go out the back door of their college on 11th Street and walk down to the house at 18 W 11th, where the Weather Underground, the radical group that succeeded the S.D.S., blew themselves to smithereens while making bombs on a cold day in March 1970.

Gawker Deathwatch, Vive La Revolution!

Gawker Logo

As a native of Hungary, Nick Denton is surely familiar with what [can happen] when people feel abused and taken advantage of by a heavy-handed autocratic leader. Alas, as the cliché goes, those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. There’s a nice little rebellion underway right now within the Gawker Media empire — but, unlike the aborted rebellions of Soviet times, in this case the iron curtain is more like a venetian blind open to the world allowing all kinds of messy details to leak into public view. First there was the recent unlovely [public mutiny] of three of the flagship site’s writers and now, to start off the year on a bloody path, Paul Boutin has [posted] on Valleywag an internal memo that details the editorial changes underway at Gawker and the new pay structure that will accompany those changes. The leak is intended as a snarky backhand to Denton’s stated intention of transforming the Gawker sites into “newsier” destinations for more readers, where pageviews trump the value of any particular writer. But in providing the memo, Boutin has inadvertently (?) allowed anyone looking in a view into their business — from estimation of writers’ incomes to advertising strategies…

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Jaron Lanier, Digital Quixote

Jaron Lanier is one of the [venerable] not-so-old men of the digital age. I first learned of him during the fracas that arose over an essay entitled [Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism] that he published on a site for brainiacs called The Edge. In it, he dared to challenge the online status quo by raising questions about the social risks of the wisdom of crowds and the devaluation of meritocracy in favor of a techno-driven faux populism.

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Review: There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood
There Will Be Boredom Daniel Day-Lewis and Dillon Freasier take taciturn turns in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 158 minute near-miss epic.

The critics are falling all over themselves expressing praise for There Will Be Blood, Paul Anderson’s tale of California roughnecks in the early years of the 20th century oil industry — likening it to Citizen Kane as an epic portrayal of grand themes with larger-than-life characters — but their ardor seems to me a bit forced, evidence more of a longing for qualities that the film promises than an accurate acknowledgment of the film’s lost potential. With few exceptions — most notably Stephanie Zacharek of Salon — it’s clear that the critics want this to be a great movie, just as Anderson clearly wanted to create one: there is a telling aside in an interview with Daniel Day-Lewis in the New York Observer in which he discloses, “Paul thought we were making a blockbuster. I thought we were making a film that would have us sort of drummed out of town with bell, book and candle.” It’s neither a blockbuster nor an abomination and I think it’s more than a bit ironic that Anderson chose to shoot the film in Marfa, Texas — the location that George Stevens used for Giant. In both cases, an ambitious director tried to leverage the vast Western landscape as a suitable canvas for stories meant to depict great American themes and both missed their mark with stories that couldn’t quite fill the frame.

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