Over on th' Orange Website, csdvrx asked me about differences between the 90s and the 20s tech scenes. This is a (likely unreliable[0]) attempt at an[1] answer.

The Advantages of Theft over Honest Toil

The Sting

In the 90s, machines were small and networks were slow. We put together crews of specialists, each of whom was obviously good (extemporaneously[2]) at what they did, and attempted to pull off the Big Score, not before the cops showed up, but before the next hardware advance[3] made it possible for any fool to do for a dollar what we had skillfully hacked to happen for a dime.

The Big Score was the end of the line. Credits roll. Sure, there were a few people who would, eg., do their best Lady Godiva impersonation at their new post-brass-ring horse ranch, but by and large the Done Thing, the example given, the ideal aimed for, was to crash your sports car off Skyline Drive the day of the IPO.

(Of course, not everyone wound up buying a small island somewhere in the vicinity of Anguilla and disappearing from the scene. Many, like Bobby Quine, would wind up right back in the Gentleman Loser with a few more zeros, ready to become "serial entrepreneurs"[4].)

The Spirit of Capitalism

Looking at the 20s, I see the cowboys have moved on and the settlers have fenced things in. There is barbed wire all over the range, and (in the age-old struggle between Cavaliers and Roundheads?) the tech scene seems to have become a nation of shopkeepers.

The 20s James Gatz still dreams of the Big Score —when the winners go home and fuck Daisy[5]— but he isn't looking to score with Steve's[6] technical chops but with Steve's[7] Reality Distortion Field.

The payout is not, as it was for us, a St. Crispin's day whose liquidity shall gentle his condition, but a long slow hustle. It's Poor Richard's Almanack, early to bed and early to rise, hustling on someone else's dime.

> Remember this saying. "The good paymaster is lord of another man's purse."

It's content creators setting up multiple passive income streams.

Ben Franklin would sagely instruct us that profit equals margin times turnover. In the 90s we had low turnover (years between liquidity events) and shot for the moon on the margin. In the 20s, the tech scene seems to be operating like Aldi's: razor thin margins, but making up for it with hustle and side bets and A/B testing and funnels and turnover.

Systems of Survival: A Dialogue

To be fair, both syndromes have always been at work. Ignore the ecosystems, as we ignorantly used to do, and your heist squad is as (or even more?) likely to find out you've robbed the bank too early[8] than too late.

On the other hand, I'm kind of hoping that the return of reasonable interest rates will mean somewhat less chasing huge capitalisations of tiny margins, and somewhat more opportunity to once again put together a crew, score a lump sum, and ride off into the sunset...

Postscript: compare the hit vs. subscription dichotomy as seen by a movie producer.

[0] am I speaking truthfully, or just waxing nostalgic for a time when things worked ... and great things were accomplished ?

When reading this, it would probably do well to keep in mind that I had turned 35 in between the 90s and the 20s.

[1] note the indefinite article. I am confident my answer exists — uniqueness, not so much...

[2] can you imagine Gandalf, just outside Moria, with the wargs howling, telling the party "Hol' up now, imma just see if Stack Overflow has anything to say about this pedo mellon a minno"?

Or Han Solo configuring a ship from the Cloud, instead of taking the Falcon?

[3] those were the days when Andy Gave, but Bill Tooketh Away. And we always hoped to take the difference, however slim, all the way to the bank.

[4] А я всё летала, но я так и знала, Что мечты лишь мало, мало.

[5] Buchanan, as she is now.

[6] Wozniak

[7] Jobs

[8] When I met Hal Finney, he had been working on neural networks. But instead of making bank on them directly, he'd wound up selling shovels to the miners. (and discovering that it didn't take many half hours of lonely-hearts calling the support line to wipe out his licensing income)

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