Fwd: Faking It: The Internet Revolution Has Nothing to Do With the Nasdaq

From: Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Mon Jul 16 2001 - 23:37:46 BST

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    [Excerpted from -]

    Faking It: The Internet Revolution Has Nothing to Do With the Nasdaq



    When Internet stocks began their free fall in March 2000, the Internet
    was finally put in its proper place. It was nothing more than a fast
    delivery service for information -- that was what serious people who had
    either lost a lot of money in the late stages of the Internet boom or,
    more likely, failed to make money began to say now. The profit-making
    potential of the Internet had been overrated, and so the social effects
    of the Internet were presumed to be overrated. But they weren't. Speeding
    up information was not the only thing the Internet had done. The Internet
    had made it possible for people to thwart all sorts of rules and
    conventions. It wasn't just the commercial order that was in flux. Many
    forms of authority were secured by locks waiting to be picked. The
    technology and money-making potential of the Internet were far less
    interesting than the effects people were allowing it to have on their
    lives and what these, in turn, said about those lives.

    What was happening on the Internet buttressed a school of thought in
    sociology known as role theory. The role theorists argue that we have no
    "self" as such. Our selves are merely the masks we wear in response to
    the social situations in which we find ourselves. The Internet had
    offered up a new set of social situations, to which people had responded
    by grabbing for a new set of masks. People take on the new tools they are
    ready for and make use of only what they need, how they need it. If they
    were using the Internet to experiment with their identities, it was
    probably because they found their old identities inadequate. If the
    Internet was giving the world a shove in a certain direction, it was
    probably because the world already felt inclined to move in that
    direction. The Internet was telling us what we wanted to become.

    I have already written here about Jonathan Lebed, the 15-year-old boy in
    the New Jersey suburbs who used the Internet to transform himself into a
    stock market manipulator. Jonathan's story suggested that you couldn't
    really understand what was happening on the Internet unless you
    understood the conditions in the real world that led to what was
    happening on the Internet -- and you couldn't understand those unless you
    went there in person and looked around. Once you did that, you came to
    appreciate all sorts of new truths. For instance, the Internet was rock
    'n' roll all over again. Not rock 'n' roll now, but rock 'n' roll in the
    1950's and 1960's, when it actually terrified grown-ups. The Internet was
    enabling a great status upheaval and a subversion of all manner of social
    norms. And the people quickest to seize on its powers were the young.

    A Finnish company, Nokia, figured this out before I did. Nokia has come
    to dominate the mobile-phone business to the point where pretty much
    everyone now agrees that the Finns will be the first to connect mobile
    phones to the Internet in a way that the rest of us will find necessary.
    The Finns were successful because they were especially good at guessing
    what others would want from their mobile phones. One big reason for this
    -- or so the people at Nokia believe -- was that they spent a lot of time
    studying children. The kids came to each new technology fresh, without
    preconceptions, and they picked it up more quickly. They dreamed up uses
    for their phones that, for reasons no one fully understood, never
    occurred to grown-ups. The instant text message, for instance.

    To create an instant message, you punched it by hand into your telephone,
    using the keypad as a typewriter. On the face of it, this is not an
    obvious use of a telephone keypad. The difference between the number of
    letters in the alphabet and the number of keys on the pad meant you wound
    up having to type a kind of Morse code. The technique had been
    popularized by Finnish schoolboys who were nervous about asking girls out
    on dates to their faces and Finnish schoolgirls who wanted to tell one
    another what had happened on those dates as soon as it happened. They had
    proved that if the need to communicate indirectly is sufficiently urgent,
    words can be typed into a telephone keypad with amazing speed. Five and a
    half million Finns sent one another more than a billion instant messages
    in the year 2000.

    The instant message has fast become a staple of European corporate
    communication. The technique spread from Finnish children to businessmen
    because the kids taught their parents. Nokia employed anthropologists to
    tell them this. Finland has become the first nation on earth to
    acknowledge formally the childcentric model of economic development: if
    you wanted a fast-growing economy, you needed to promote rapid technical
    change, and if you intended to promote rapid technical change, you needed
    to cede to children a strange measure of authority.

    When capitalism encourages ever more rapid change, children enjoy one big
    advantage over adults: they haven't decided who they are. They haven't
    sunk a lot of psychological capital into a particular self. When a
    technology comes along that rewards people who are willing to chuck
    overboard their old selves for new ones, the people who aren't much
    invested in their old selves have an edge. The things that get tossed
    overboard with a 12-year-old self don't seem like much to give up at the

    Michael Lewis is a contributing writer for the magazine. This article is
    adapted from his new book, "Next," which will be published later this
    month by W.W. Norton. Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit

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