MsGeek.Org v2.0

The ongoing saga of a woman in the process of reinvention.
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Saturday, August 07, 2004

Let's face it, folks, the Dot Com Bubble of the mid to late '90s ain't coming back.

Silicon Valley isn't going to end up sharing the fate of the Rust Belt, but I suspect that the 17% office vacancy rate is going to remain stable there for the forseeable future, and a lot of people who got jobs in those go-go days are probably going to have to retrain for something radically different or settle for McJobs for the rest of their existence.

I was at a party today, and a DJ was hired to play "oldies" and mind the laptop set up to do Karaoke. (Neat little trick...I've no doubt my ThinkPad could handle such a task...could provide some fun) The big shock was that some of those oldies dated only as far back as the 1990s. I was just getting used to whiny British "Rock Of The '80s" bands as "Oldies But Goodies" but hey, it's only 2004, dammit! And to add insult to injury, the '90s music he chose was the stupid Macarena and "Achy Breaky Heart." Where's the Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth, dammit?

Damn right I am nostalgic for that "One brief shining moment" when even misfits like me could get steady employment, full health coverage, a 401K plan with full dollar-for-dollar contributions from HR, and, most importantly, a living wage for working building websites. I feel like a freakin' bum now, especially in Summer where there's neither financial aid nor work study available and we are barely clinging to the roof over our head and food and whatnot and squabbling over every last cent we spend. I don't like the fact that I am basically trying to panhandle spare change on my site to help me get by while I try to get through the additional schooling I need to become marketable again.

Perhaps people like me were supposed to basically lead lives of quiet desperation, as some poet or another put it. Perhaps the whole "Irrational Exuberance" period was a time when even Darwin was put on hold for a while, and even the unfit, those who are natural prey for the fittest among us, were allowed a glimpse of what Upward Mobility tm felt like. I remember one of my fondest memories of that period was when I could go to the family Chanukah party and give gifts like a macher, not quietly take family members aside and hold out my schnorrer hat for holiday alms.

The laws of physics and of the jungle cannot be mocked for long. The bubble had to burst. The geeks could not inherit the earth, that simply doesn't happen. With computer hardware and software a commodity, of course they're going to outsource commodity manufacturing to third-world sweatshops -- more properly, their IT equivalent -- in Shanghai, Moscow, Bangalore and Taipei.

The typography shops that thrived during the time before Pagemaker and QuarkXpress blew them all away aren't coming back. Letterpress is making a slight return as a printing technology as a niche "artisan" process, much like engraving did when modern photographic platemaking arrived, but it won't return for the applications for which xeroxing and offset printing is perfectly adequate.

The jobs I had between 1996 and 2000 have almost completely vanished, as websites are built by faceless drones overseas, or by secretaries wielding copies of MS Front Page. (GAH!) The only way innovative software designers can do their work the old-fashioned way is if they get involved in Free/Open Source "community" software projects, because the big for-profit, largely closed/proprietary software companies are getting a lot of their work done overseas.

Slashdot ran an article yesterday about perks returning in some workplaces. What resulted was a very depressing slog through tales of IT workers who are permanently displaced, and people who still clung to their jobs with a feeling that the Pink Slip was right around the corner. No, perks aren't back. Perks in 2004 terms is the boss saying "see you Monday" on Friday. Perks is your job not being outsourced to a code sweatshop in Calcutta, or a help desk mill in Bangalore where people working for pennies an hour are given lessons to "brush up" their American English skills.

Wake up. The geek Camelot of the fin-de-siecle is not coming back. Go back to school. Get into the Health Care field, because all the old baby boomers are going to need people to wipe their asses in their nursing homes. Oh wait. Maybe that might be outsourced, too, eventually.

Note from 8/8/2004, 8:53am: a decidedly less rosy Slashdot article appeared early this morning, confirming my most pessimistic thoughts.