When Numbers Get Serious

“When numbers get serious / you see their shape everywhere”: Paul Simon first sang this back in 1983, but he could be singing it about the Internet recession.

Well, maybe it’s not a recession, as someone once said. Maybe it’s just a little depression.

While the stock market looks for a bottom and former Internet gazillionaires such as Bert Ellis learn how to count to zero, it might be worthwhile to talk about what gets you through this kind of economy and what its benefit might be.

What gets you through is persistence and discipline in the good times. What you get in return is survival.

There’s another important point to make here. Thanks to the Internet, true unemployment won’t be a problem during this recession. If you can keep a roof over your head, a keyboard in front of you, and your ISP bills paid, you can keep working.

Whether you’ll make any money from it is another story. Many of the key skills required by the Internet — designing, coding, and writing — aren’t nearly as rare as we make them out to be. I figure that I’ll be lucky to make half my 2000 income in 2001. That’s OK — I’ll still be doing what I want. If you are, you should be happy, too.

Although the Internet economy may take the blame for what’s going on — we’re making a big, early contribution to the lay-off notices — everyone should know now that it’s an unfair charge. The fact is that the U.S. economy is not designed to run on $35-per-barrel oil. I’m old enough to remember the stagflation of the 1970s, and both the recessions of that era were oil based, ending only when economic changes forced the price of oil back down. The 1991 recession, while blamed on debt, was also caused by an energy price spike.

This recession will be longer because we’re really going to have to adapt this time, not just fight back. The ultimate solution is to set a permanent price for oil that’s high enough so that oilmen know they can earn a profit and so can those making fuel cells or investing in other alternative energy technologies.

But we can do our part, too. And we will. The Internet is actually the best tool ever created for reducing energy demand.

Corporations may be unwilling to embrace telecommuting, but unemployment forces it on us, and that cuts demand for gas.

All these B2B marketplaces that eliminate the middleman also make distribution of goods and services more efficient, further reducing demand for energy.

Economic reality is going to force medical centers and universities to really embrace the Internet, cutting costs and prices to meet what the market can pay for healthcare and education.

Right now, things look serious. Some people are losing their fortunes, and others are losing their jobs. But it’s just what Schumpeter calls “creative destruction.” It’s the sound of change coming. And no human creation is a greater, faster agent of change than the medium you’re now working on.

So just do what you’ve been doing with change ever since you came here — embrace it.

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