Cynical Valley: The Technology World Slows Down

The new millennium has started with a dull thud in Technoville. The market has been down. (Now there’s an understatement.) One of the most popular web sites among the digerati uses a four-letter word that describes the demise of many a dot-com start-up. Venture capitalists are battening down the hatches. Even media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who has been spending money like a drunken sailor, is scaling back his foray into the web.

Speaking of the media… once-starry-eyed reporters are now declaring a malaise in the market — or a sputtering of the economic engine. Technology-specific magazines (both online and offline) have turned their “IPO Watch” columns to “Layoff Watch” columns.

Silicon Valley is becoming the Cynical Valley. Where once unabashed optimism reigned, now a wary attitude prevails toward the latest “New New Thing.” Technology recruiters have started to turn their attention from their clients, talent-hungry employers, to the applicants, the recently jobless.

One doesn’t have to be a genius to realize that things have changed. Over the holidays, several technology workers were sighing over 1999’s huge, extravagant holiday bashes. “Those days are over,” lamented one. Tony locations, once impossible to book less than six months in advance, found themselves with an open holiday-event calendar because of some last-minute cancellations.

Remember When We Were Millionaires?

So… have the days of youthful risk-taking ended? The 80-hour-workweek twentysomethings of the last five years are getting older, finding mates, and starting families. In other words, they’re getting lives outside their cubicles. And their stock options are borderline penny stocks. Was it worth it? For some, it was.

There are enduring friendships, strengthened by the camaraderie of working late hours and being a part of something new and exciting. The previous generation can’t boast anything as thrilling in their careers.

But the same people are now considering the very employers they sneered at over the years. The so-called “establishment” employers suddenly look pretty good: long hours, but not as long as those of start-ups; a real human resources department; health benefits; sanity. OK, there’s no foosball or wearing pajamas to work. That’s the tradeoff for having dinner with someone whose business card is different from yours.

Quite a few dot-commers are taking time off. Not just a week, folks. They’re taking months off to recuperate from the daily pounding they took when working at a start-up. Some are still addicted to the adrenaline rush of working for a start-up. Others, who still want to stay in the business, want some balance in their lives.

Either way, don’t tell any of them that the latest idea, product, or business is going to revolutionize anything. That is, unless you want people rolling their eyes at you and feeling sorry for you.

The More Things Change…

People still generally shop the same way. They get their groceries the same way. They make their choices the same way. They are making the Internet a part of their lives, but they are not making it their entire lives. And they are getting cynical about the next idea that’s supposed to change all that came before.

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