Dear Web: Get a Life

I’ve spent the last week wracking my brain, wondering why The Industry Standard spent a dozen pages looking at the idea of Utah as a high-tech hotbed.

For starters, it’s rather insulting to Utah the state has been in the center of the industry since Novell, WordPerfect, and Iomega were start-ups. For another thing, it’s rather insulting to Idaho, which has Micron Technologies, its own set of Internet start-ups, and Mormons aplenty.

But as these objections (and others) occurred to me, it also occurred to me there was a powerful subliminal message at work here.

The start-up life is associated with youth, obscene hours, and a total commitment to the company. The historical genesis may be IBM’s discovery in the 1960s – the discovery that determined throwing more bodies at a project doesn’t bring it to market any faster. Or it may come from Microsoft’s rise, spurred by all-nighters and a “frat boy” attitude, which solved that IBM problem.

In fact, there are going to be times in a creative business whether it’s software, film, theater, or journalism when you’ve got to get things done and put your life on hold. If there’s a huge pot of money at the end of that rainbow, it’s a sacrifice most of us are quite willing to make.

But that’s not always going to be the case anymore. What most Netslaves are finding is that payoff can be elusive. Most start-ups fail. (In the real world, 90 percent of them fail.) Even when start-ups succeed, nearly all the benefits flow to top management and venture capitalists. The trickle-down theory has worked at some firms, but only after those first groups have gotten obscenely wealthy. Besides, the world’s truly hungry will always be able to outwork us – and for a lot less money.

At some point, everyone has to put childish things aside and get a life. (Even Bill Gates has two kids.) At that point, you have to balance the interests of what you do for a living (no matter how much fun it is) and the other people you’re responsible for. That can be wrenching, it can be hard, but it can also be satisfying.

I could have been working last Saturday, for instance, but I would have missed the launch of a really great start-up. My son’s little league baseball team was trailing by a run in the last inning, two outs, two strikes, two on, and suddenly my kid hits the frozen rope to left field that wins the game. We laughed, we cried, (I missed my dad), and I wouldn’t give Microsoft’s entire market cap for that moment. (If it’s happened to you, you know what I mean.)

There are millions of moments like this every day, moments we miss if we’re dedicated only to our work. The trade isn’t worth it. Utah might be an extreme solution, but you can also find peace in Boston, New York, or even Silicon Valley.

So if you’re reading this at 3 a.m., with no sounds around you except the whirring of your computer’s fan and the hum of the fluorescent lights, take this clue. Go home. Life is calling. Your desk will be here in the morning.

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