The new tech boom bust
Once new tech was a leg up; now it's just another click in the wall
© 2010 Blunt, used under a Creative Commons license
I made this comment…
…in reaction to a good thread on an even better thread about how blind older people can be to the difficulty of pretty much everything it takes to live anymore: Getting a job, having a place to live, paying student debt if you have it, getting out of poverty if you’re in it.
You want some links for evidence? Here, here, here. I can do more, but it’s so obvious it’s beside the point. You and I live in this country, and some of us are old enough to have seen the changes firsthand, and even to note their acceleration.
I remember, for example, noticing after years of contending with rising New York City rents that even rents in my old home town of Bridgeport, Connecticut had cracked the four-figure barrier — and Bridgeport, as Daddy Warbucks knew, is no New York. And anyone who has had to change jobs and is not in upper management (where the party apparently never ends) knows the wage and salary floor is rising a lot slower than the ceiling — not to mention the cost of living.
@della_morte_ has a point. But as I said, the problem is not so much ignorance, in my view, as the old, diehard bootstrap philosophy that anyone, so matter how dire their circumstance, can with a little grit, sweat, moxie, stick-to-it-iveness, and gumption launch themselves out of the mire and into an ever-upward trajectory (with a possible mild downfall to goose the tension in the second act, followed by a big comeback). That’s been American mythology since before Horatio Alger — for wasn’t our society classless, and couldn’t any enterprising white fellow (and eventually even ladies and minorities) rise in it with a little luck, pluck, and virtue?
We associate this with the very old-fashioned thinking of dead or nearly-dead generations, but it’s powerful stuff (see, oh, nearly any popular American entertainment, ever) and it has seeped pretty deep into the cultural water table of their successors too. Obviously the foil in most of these stories is a Boomer, but we can’t let out Gen X – they’re in their forties and fifties now and many of them occupy the same privileged societal balcony from which Boomers spit on The Kids.
In fact, looking at who got up the ladder and who had it pulled away from them*, I’d say there’s another factor besides bootstrap philosophy — but closely aligned with it — that feeds into older Americans’ poisoned idea of how easy it is for the youngs to get started in life today. And it applies even more to Gen X than to Boomers. (* BTW, fellow olds of limited means, I don’t mean all of you — even enclaves of privilege have their rejects, and if that includes you, remember you at least have your moral dignity. Now keep folding those pizza boxes.)
Elders may recall the personal computing revolution in the late 20th Century. We hear a lot about disintermediation and disruption to this day, but for a lot of us, when these machines turned up at our jobs and in our homes, it was a genuine disintermediating and disruptive event. Once upon a time you had to get access to tools and then training in tools and then someone had to give you an opportunity to use the tools — a chain of events very like the old apprentice system, but more random and harder to break into. But now you could do it all from your desk with few or no gatekeepers in the way.
You could publicize your inventions and events to an infinite number of people at nearly no cost. You could have a worldwide profile without leaving your home. You could make flyers, covers, books, magazines, at first to be xeroxed or (if you had the scratch) printed, and then without even the expectation of print because everyone and everything was online; making a website was like staking a claim. You could make music. You could make movies. You could run lights and sound for a theater event. You could even write about politics and culture and find your own audience from a free platform instead of hustling a publisher to let you.
I imagine someone coming out of that experience with some of its glittering prizes — someone who may owe their career as an art director or musician or publicist (or, hell, as an executive – because the digital-age skillset gave those guys advantages too, especially if they weren’t great in meetings) to that epochal tech shift — looking at Kids Today and thinking: Why can’t they do as I did?
But the answer is self-evident. First-mover advantage — even first-million-mover advantage — is gone. The tech revolution of the 80s, 90s and oughts was a real gold rush (it even had its own boom-and-bust). The subsequent tech market still has gold in it, but it’s all wrapped up in crypto and stocks. The innovations of the prior tech revolution gave people new powers to remake their destiny; the innovations of our own time, the Age of iPhone, give millionaires blocks of billions to play with, and for the rest there are apps of convenience for getting services booked and deliveries scheduled. Tech is not making new opportunities; it’s making doordashers.
I’m not sure how many people over forty know this. But I bet everyone under forty does.