Keep Smiling

Charlie Chaplin wrote the song “Smile” for his 1936 film “Modern Times.”

Today’s dot-com “victims” can’t imagine the conditions of that time. At the height of the Depression, one-third of all workers were unemployed. Few women were in the work force, so they didn’t count in the statistics.

Those who were working faced constant pay cuts. Prices were falling but not as fast as wages. Birth rates fell, people wandered the country aimlessly, and hunger was a living reality for most people.

So I smile when I hear people moaning about today’s business conditions and cutbacks, along with its 4.5 percent unemployment rate. You called me a scold during the Internet boom of the 1990s. Now I’m going to tell you how to get through this.

First, keep on working. Figure out what you would do for nothing and, since that may be what you make for a time, get to work on it.

I started working as a columnist in 1997 when I was laid off from a journalism job. I wrote my newsletter, A-Clue.Com, for nothing. I still do.

If it’s good (and many editors think so, which is why I have gotten many writing assignments these last four years), it’s because I care about it, a lot. In times like this, that work just gets better and better.

So if you program, then program. If you design, then design. If you write, then write. If you sell, call me. Put your best stuff on your personal Web site. Let your work be your risumi.

Second, let everything else go. When there’s no money coming in, you find out what’s most important to you. You may be surprised at the answer.

If you’re a 24-year-old former “dot-com” millionaire whose stock options blew to ashes and who lost the great job with the free sodas, please do us all a favor and grow up. Stop whining.

This too shall pass. The Internet isn’t going to go away. Higher energy prices and brownouts may hurt California, but your server farm can be in Texas or Alabama. There’s great opportunity in putting low-power “laptop” technology to work in servers, too.

Higher energy prices also mean it will cost more to turn trees into paper, to haul ink, and to run printing presses. The economic advantages of Internet publishing are going to come home to the market, and quickly.

You’ve seen Murphy’s Law in action during the last few months, but remember that Moore’s Law hasn’t been repealed, either. Even if last year’s stuff is worthless, faster chips, computers, and routers guarantee new stuff will be built this year. And it will have to be sold.

Finally, remember the heart of the Jimmy Stewart movie “Harvey.” His Elwood P. Dowd is asked the reason for his strange behavior, which features in-depth discussions with a (presumably) imaginary six-foot-tall rabbit, the title character.

“In this world,” he says, “you can either be oh so clever or oh so pleasant. I’ve tried clever. I prefer pleasant.” That’s a sound philosophy for both good times and bad.

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