The New Economy Grows Old

Where has all the youth, energy, and exuberance gone? Where has the will to change the world gone? Where has the belief that the revolution was unstoppable gone? That this time it was different? That this time it really was out with the old, in with the new?

The new economy is suffering some growing pains. The dot-com revolution has hit the inflexible iceberg of reality, and stock options have become like deck chairs on the “Titanic.” For a while, the world became like a film set.

Everything seemed possible, and caution was thrown to the wind. For a while, it was easy to believe that we could all write our own happy endings.

It’s not the end, but rather the end of the beginning. The shift from the old to the new is genuine and profound. We still need to dream to imagine the impact the Internet will have on our futures. It has already brought about profound changes. But these are nothing compared to the changes to come over the next 25 years.

Twenty-five years is a long time — well, it depends on how you look at time. If you measure it by “Internet time,” then it is a very long time indeed. If you measure it against human history (let alone the age of the galaxy), then it’s not really that long at all.

Internet time — the idea that three months represented one year in the Internet economy — by now must be seriously discredited. The intense rush it created resulted in a lot of bad decisions, shaky projects, and shaky companies. The speed of technology will always be limited by the more careful workings of the human brain. There’s only so fast we can go without losing control and no harm in slowing down a little.

“Change is good” was the wired generation’s mantra. This new economy was going to sweep away all the old practices, all the old ways of doing things. We were all going to think differently, to work differently. Things were really going to be better. Work was going to be fun.

When your stock options go down the drain, your sense of humor can go with ’em. Fun gets redefined. It’s no fun to work long hours for modest pay. Flexibility begins to look like lack of structure and support. Amazon workers stop talking about looking after the customer, and instead start looking after themselves, as they seek to join a union.

A recent LBS and Korn/Ferry study of M.B.A. graduates who joined dot-coms found that many of them were questioning their decisions. The study stated that the graduates found that the “hours worked were longer, the travel is more onerous, and the time at home more limited. The new economy company increasingly mirrors the old, but without a supportive infrastructure.”

So, is the party over? Yeah, well, maybe… the innocence has certainly gone. All of us who work for the Internet are setting our clocks back. A year is now a year, a month a month. Reality is back in fashion.

Let’s not get carried away by the bear stock market. The Internet is here to stay. It may now take years to realize the dream, to make the idea real. Do we have what it takes? We’re still playing in the field of the future. If we give up now, we never deserved the rewards in the first place.

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