Remember how the internet was supposed to be about digital communities communicating instantly, ushe...
Remember how the internet was supposed to be about digital communities communicating instantly, ushering in a new age of prosperity and democracy? Think again. At the moment, the internet is all about spitting bile and hatred into the atmosphere.
The past few months have seen the emergence of a host of 'whinge' sites, electronic water coolers where the employed of the world gather to swap tales from the fetid trenches of corporate life, and to moan about the various numbskulls for whom they have the misfortune to work.
What is it about the new economy that produces so many unhappy workers? Has the internet so altered the relationship between employers and employees that every office quarrel will now be broadcast to the world, and preserved in code for customers, rivals and potential employees to feast upon?
If so, the working world has changed fundamentally and not necessarily for the better.
At the respectable end of the whinge market, there is thevault.com, a hybrid job site that also includes message boards on just about every company you've ever heard of.
Some bits seem useful: If you are going for an interview at Merrill Lynch, for example, you can ask the board how big your bonus might be and get a sensible answer the same day. But much of the material is more along the lines of don't go work for Jack at BigBank Inc he's a useless fool with psychotic leanings.
New economy icons in particular take a beating. Two remarks about Amazon.com are typical: "It's starting to get a bad rep among Seattle job hunters as a sweatshop and generally devious employer," says one.
Farther down the whinge market is Netslaves.com, a site that gathers the disappointments and frustrations of the new economy, and preserves them in a scrap-book of dot.com folly and pig-headedness.
"Net slaves is dedicated to everyone who's been burned by the incompetence, moronic planning, and hysterical management of New Media companies," says its mission statement.
But for hardcore web whinging, the place to hang out is fu&*edcompany.com (our spelling). This is the X-rated stuff, where the truly embittered describe the implosion of the new economy in graphic detail.
In one sense, the whinge sites are just a new twist on some old impulses. Ever since work was invented, it has been part of human nature to grumble about the boss. No doubt the slaves hauling rocks to the pyramids gathered at night to criticise the ridiculous deadlines, and question whether anyone needs huge pointy things in the middle of a desert anyway. It is also part of human nature to turn any new technology to destructive effect. The forge gave us the spear, the stirrup the cavalry, and so on through history. The internet is now giving us a lot of sour adjectives about incompetent marketing managers.
But, that said, the level of animosity portrayed on the whinge sites is a testament to the extent to which the new economy has acquired a bitter edge. There are lots of bad old economy companies to work for. But at least they have customers and revenue, and a place in the market. Many Internet companies have none of those things and never will.
But there is another, more fundamental, reason. At its most basic level, the digital economy is about empowerment.
Most attention has focused so far on the extent to which it has empowered consumers and entrepreneurs; it gives customers far greater choice, and levels the playing field between new businesses and established giants.
It is now empowering the humblest creature in the economic food chain, the employee. But sites such as thevault and netslaves, a sub-set of disobey.com, give them a powerful tool: information.
In time the whinge sites may become the electronic equivalent in the new economy to unions; a counter-force to the over-weaning power of capital. For workers that is good.
Managers will be more careful how they treat people when they know every transgression will be recorded on a website somewhere.
Matthew Lynn in London's Bloomberg newsroom
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