No Footprints

In the 1980’s, companies like Lotus Development Corp were “growth” companies, which meant they could not sell their products fast enough. The PC revolution was in full swing and Lotus 1-2-3 was the killer, must have, application. If you walked into their Cambridge headquarters, it looked like a bomb went off because no one had time to be tidy. It was all hands on deck to get product out the door. There were not a lot of rules either. The game was to grow and that’s what mattered. All the other corporate stuff was secondary.

That did not last. By the mid-90’s, the desktop computer market was established and the default platform was Microsoft Windows, which meant Microsoft Office. It was around this time that IBM was making a hostile takeover bid, not because they wanted a growth company, but because Lotus was becoming an asset company. That is, its value was no longer in sales of its products, but in the value of its patents and technology. IBM bought Lotus in order to squeeze every drop of juice from it and then, eventually, toss it away.

That’s the modern economy in a nutshell.

The Technological Revolution is often compared to the Industrial Revolution, because of the cultural impact. After the steam engine, people did not just have better stuff. People were different. They lived different and had different relationships to one another and their rulers. A similar process is underway in the Technological Revolution. Mass migration, the elimination of the middle-class and the end of popular government are three obvious examples of changes wrought by the technological age.

One difference between the Industrial Revolution and the Technological Revolution is the trail of breadcrumbs each left behind, as it worked its way through society. Today, Americans still drive over roads and bridges built during the peak of the industrial age. Even though our consumer goods are made by foreigners, they still use the same practices the West developed for industry. Even in blighted cities, you can still find old factory buildings that remind us of the past.

The technological age is a different animal. It tends to erase its own footsteps. Lotus Development Corp is a good example. It was not just that it lost the competition for desktop productivity software. Everything about it was consumed and recycled. Walk around Cambridge today and you cannot tell that Lotus even existed. The tech economy is a soylent green economy. Once the utility of its creations are exhausted, everything about it is consumed, erased from existence, as if people are ashamed of it.

The billionaire, Mark Cuban made his first million selling software. He worked as a salesman for a software store and then started his own company, which he eventually sold. Then Cuban founded  Audionet, which he sold to Yahoo for $2.6 billion. None of the companies Cuban started exist. The companies that bought his companies are all gone now, with Yahoo about to be swallowed up in a fire sale. Even the technologies he championed are now long forgotten.

Unless he uses his billions to have his name carved onto a mountain, Cuban will leave this world with nothing to show for himself, nothing anyone can point to and say, “Mark Cuban built that.” It’s unlikely that Cuban or any of the tech billionaires care about this. It is the way they want it, or at least it appears that way. That explains their zeal to erase our culture and replace it with a throw away version based in nothing but a desire to squeeze a few more drops from the societies they intend to throw away.


Whether you call it the technological age or the global age, these are just polite terms for cosmopolitanism, scaled to the supranational. In the city, you don’t build, you hustle. You don’t own, you rent. Nothing is permanent because a stationary target is an easy target. Instead you make what you can and you move onto the next thing. If you can shift the burden onto someone else, all the better. That’s how the game is played because in the city, everyone is a stranger.

That’s the new economy we are experiencing. No one thinks about the long term, because that’s a sucker’s play. The money is in the short hustle, You make your money and move on. The game is to pick the fruit, squeeze out all the juice and then toss away the rest, leaving it for a sucker to clean up later. The housing bubble is a good example. Everyone involved knew it was a grift. They are too smart to not have known. The game was to make money and not be the sucker left holding the bag.

I used to know someone who worked at Lotus in its heyday, so I had an interest in the company from the early days. I recall the owners turning up in local news a lot  and they were brimming with confidence. I wonder if those folks from the glory days of Lotus don’t look back with sadness at what happened to their company. They are rich men and did very well for themselves after Lotus, but still. I bet they would trade a lot to be able to walk past their old building with their old sign still over the door.

I could be all wrong and maybe they have long forgotten about their old firm. Maybe all those people simply made their money and moved on to the next thing. Men have lived their lives in order to be remembered since the dawn of time. Maybe as the Industrial Revolution resulted in different people and different social arrangements, this age is doing the same and the new man of the new economy is just a stranger passing through, uninterested in leaving footprints for future generations to examine.

38 thoughts on “No Footprints

  1. Welcome to the new America:
    Cohesity, hyperconvergence, Nutanix, SimpliVity…

    How a 4-year-old startup got Cisco and HPE to invest while turning away $100 million

    Those two companies are fierce rivals, and their competition in storage has gotten even more intense of late. HPE recently bought a storage company called SimpliVity for $650 million cash. And that buy has put pressure on Cisco to enter a data-center hardware market known as hyperconvergence. This market has affected companies’ server and storage businesses because “hyperconverged” hardware bundles up elements of both into one computer server box.

    Cohesity’s founder, Aron, is one of the fathers of hyperconvergence technology. He founded the company that ushered in the market, Nutanix, along with the company’s CEO, Dheeraj Pandey. SimpliVity was seen as one of the biggest direct competitors to Nutanix.

  2. Back before Windows, there was a GUI desktop called Desqview. It was like many tech products. It was a good product with poor marketing. I happened to stumble across a website full of the folks that worked on it. And, they were still proud of it, but only a few old timers have even heard of it.

    The more I see of tech (and I’m talking about computers and software), the less I like it. We insist that we computerize medical records. What has that given us? We don’t use it for the obvious purpose of cross checking medical procedures and medications. No, doctors just use it to take notes and put medical transcriptionists out of work. The doctor will spend more time looking at the keyboard than at you. Yes, computerized cars get better mileage. They also give you lots of new parts to spend your money on. Computerized schools give them a reason to continually jack up property taxes to pay for it all. Streaming tv and movies lets us spend even more money on the things people used to get with an over the air antenna. And so it goes.

    I got into the field to work with computers. Now I deal with people’s thermostats and smart tvs.

    • Could do most of the repairs replacing tubes and stuff on our first tv. I could repair anything on my first car. Now cars look like the space shuttle under the hood.

    • DESQview and QEMM
      “To make maximum use of extended memory on Intel 80386 processors, by transforming it into expanded memory and upper memory blocks (UMBs) accessible to DESQview and other real-mode programs, Quarterdeck developed a sophisticated memory manager. Owing to the foresight of its marketing manager, Quarterdeck marketed it as a separate product, QEMM-386 (Quarterdeck Expanded Memory Manager 386). It became more popular than DESQview itself, and sold steadily for many years, generating over US$150 million in sales from 1987 through 1994. After the release of the Intel Pentium processor, the 386 in QEMM was dropped. The combination package of DESQview and QEMM-386 was called DESQview 386 (DV386).”

      Wikipedia has the history of DESQview

    • “We insist that we computerize medical records. What has that given us? We don’t use it for the obvious purpose of cross checking medical procedures and medications. No, doctors just use it to take notes and put medical transcriptionists out of work. ”

      Computerized medical records have been mandated for two purposes: the primary purpose is to increase profits for insurance companies, as accurate recordkeeping allows them to better control risk and costs, and limit or deny claims. The secondary purpose is, working with HIPAA, accurate medical recordkeeping turns healthcare into a lever of political control. HIPAA is a devil’s bargain: you get some limited privacy benefits on the one hand, as medical providers can’t share your records with other private parties without your permission. In exchange for that, BY LAW your medical records are required to be fully visible to agents of the state and agents of the insurance companies, on demand.

      Note that actually increasing the quality of healthcare delivered to the patient is not a goal of the program. That simply doesn’t matter– it doesn’t fit into the equation, and never will under the current regulatory regime.

  3. Pingback: No Footprints | IowaDawg: Posting Only What I Like

  4. On the other hand, there is Elon, who LITERALLY wants to create a new world. Bezos too, although he likes L-5 style colonies better.

    • Elon, whose big ideas are to (1) replace PERFECTLY GOOD gasoline-powered automobiles with coal-powered automobiles, and (2) someday achieve the kind of space exploration technology that Werner Von Braun developed back in the 1960s, for a fraction of the money that Elon is now spending?


      • The first snub is funny and partially fair, although if the eco weenies had not succeeded in stopping the development of breeder reactors, then Teslas would be powered by electricty “too cheap to meter” as the saying went.

        The second snub is a perversion of the truth, aimed at pulling laughs from laymen who are not familiar with the history of the technology. The crony space companies have a lot of fat, balding engineers used to farting away decades without any progress. They know their jobs are doomed, and they post a lot of trash talk like that online.

        • “The crony space companies have a lot of fat, balding engineers used to farting away decades without any progress. ”

          You see, we actually agree. Everybody who worked on Werner Von Braun’s space program in the 1960s is long retired or dead. The ones who came afterwards were, increasingly, dead weight.

          • There’s nothing wrong with the “…lot of fat, balding engineers…” it’s management that refused to improve anything that didn’t have automatic subsidized dollar signs on it. Musk hired a bunch of these guys to do what other companies never allowed them to do.

            As for electric cars. I personally believe the first time someone has to pay for battery replacement it will cause a heart attack followed by many more as this becomes common. Doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s needed. You can charge the car with solar cells that get cheaper and cheaper every day. Now all we need is a dirt cheap flywheel that will last.

  5. Re Corp HQ buildings as lasting monuments: The great Parkinson of Parkinson’s Law wrote a great, dry British wit essay called ‘The Edifice Complex’ IIRRC. His takeaway was that when ground was broken for the monumental Corp HQ it was time to sell (not short) the stock because it meant that top management had run out of new ideas and was sliding into ego gratification. When there were almost too many ‘amazing new opportunities’ they had no time for such frippery, and besides, who knew how big that building would need to be.

    My anecdotal observation in hardware-limited hi-tech was that this observation was pretty accurate but the timing was uncertain, meaning that the deceleration might not start immediately but it was likely baked in. IOW, change from ‘buy’ to ‘hold & watch’ but not to ‘sell’ until flackery about product announcements exceeded actual, you know, actually new product announcements.

  6. Given the way the West has deteriorated, why would people that have been raised to believe that the winner is the one that dies with the most toys have any concern about anything long-term? Create and maintain a civilization? Hey, it will maintain itself. Create and maintain a business? Gordon Gecko it into the ground. Work at a job making widgets, do a good job for 40 years, then retire with the gratitude of your friends and coworkers, get a gold watch and wait for the dirt nap? Are you kidding? Go to work for a new tech company, ride the bubble till just before it pops, sell your stock options and spend the rest of your life living the Life o’ Riley. Trading in your old female for a new one when she starts to sag and nag. Now you’re talking!

    No investment in your culture, no concern when someone else takes over. At least you got yours!

    • Why even try to build up a small company or family farm? You can’t leave it to your children. The government will take half of it – so they’ll have to sell just to pay the tax bill.

      Unless of course, you are really rich and can store it all far offshore Kennedy-style.

    • Gordon Gekko gets a bad rap, witness the stockholders’ meeting of Teldar Paper.

      Gekko: The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company! All together, these men sitting up here own less than three percent of the company. Where does Mr. Cromwell put his million-dollar salary? Not in Teldar stock; he owns less than one-percent. You own the company. That’s right, you, the stockholder. And you are all being royally screwed over by these, these bureaucrats, with their luncheons, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and their golden parachutes.

      Cromwell: This is an outrage! You’re out of line Gekko!

      Gekko: Teldar Paper, Mr. Cromwell, Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents each earning over 200 thousand dollars a year. Now, I have spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do, and I still can’t figure it out. One thing I do know is that our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I’ll bet half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between these vice presidents. Well, in my book you either do it right or get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I have been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pre-tax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you. I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!

      I would submit that the culture embraced by Teldar’s corporate structure has inflicted far more damage to the West than the Gordon Gekkos of the world.

  7. The old man always called them suitcase companies. All their assets can be packed into a suitcase and walk out the door.

  8. I grew up in the town with the headquarters of Digital and Data General, and a big GTE tech center. Those were crazy optimistic times in the 80’s. All gone now. I thinks BJs headquarters is in one of those buildings now. The rest is just generic office space.

    My uncle started at Data General and survived all the sales and mergers and moved with them to NC. But now he’s at a bland corporation, not an exciting growth rocket.

  9. In the late ’60s I was introduced to a pyramid scheme where I worked. Simply put, you bought a ‘share’ which allowed you to sell four shares to people. You kept half the ‘sale’ and passed half on up to the person ‘above’ you, the one who had sold you a share. They in turn would be passing a share up the ladder one place.

    It was of course productless scam: there was nothing but an agreement to follow the rules. I made, and this is incredibly modest by today’s standards, some £28 but the people I sold four shares to as per the rules were destined to make less than a tenner each. Below that they were merely paying up the ladder and not finding any ‘buyers.’ I knew one of those guys and he even tried to persuade me to buy one of his shares but I just laughed and said no thanks. Remember, this was very local but by the time the potential market ran out (and the ‘scheme’ collapsed) it already required as many people as lived in the district to participate. I wasn’t math-literate but even I could see it was soon going to exhaust the number of participants sooner or later.

    At that point I understood an important business model we were to see replicated in the internet years: get in early, don’t worry about making anything other than promises, make people think they are buying something valuable to them and then, with their cash in your pocket, get out early while there is still a naive belief in promises washing around.

    The point was this was all short-lived, and the trick was to get in early enough to keep the money. It was all probably declared illegal not long after because no one floated anything like that at work again.

  10. Whatever one plucks from this essay, this is the salient point: “That explains their zeal to erase our culture and replace it with a throw away version based in nothing but a desire to squeeze a few more drops from the societies they intend to throw away.”

    It explains everything because it is cynical nihilism’s logical outcome, and we are nothing as an educated culture if we aren’t elite nihilists. (I see what I did there.)

  11. Cuban is a fake billionaire. Anyone who listens to him as an authority on how to build a business isn’t paying attention.

    He’s a huckster who sold his small company for more than 100 times earnings to even bigger idiots during the boom.

    • Yeah, the Yahoo purchase of Audionet will be remembered, I suspect, as something emblematic of this age.

      • Imagine telling Industrial Barons that a company with no profits (Snap) IPO’d for $3.4 billion. Traditional value and productivity markers just don’t apply to tech. You could know Bethlehem Steel’s value because it had X assets and produced Y goods that were needed to build Z things. Its operation created value that you could count and quantify regardless of “buzz” or public perceptions. Yes, intangible goods like goodwill still had an effect, but today that effect has been magnified beyond reason. This unmooring of company valuations, I think, eschews the very concept of value in general. I wonder if this isn’t one of the major contributors to the “different people and different social arrangements” you mentioned. After all, if a thing can have great value without a corresponding effect on objective reality, what is value and how are we creating it?

      • The biggie for me was the AOL-Time Warner debacle: The biggest fuck up since the Armada.

    • Maybe he can be listened to as an authority on when to bail out, i.e. a timing consultant.

  12. A dot com millionaire friend and I were speaking after he recently sold another company. The idea behind the company was brilliant, but he never got the product to actually work at the scale he wanted, and passed on opportunities to use what was working for smaller customers who could use it.

    I asked of he was disappointed that unlike his first product (a widely used marketplace software), this was one was a relative failure, and he looked at me, smiled, and said ‘what failure – I sold it for 50 million. Sounds like a win to me.’

  13. It’s simply history repeating itself, but instead of imploding old factory buildings into a pile of bricks and dust, failed software companies usually result in empty office space and someone turning off the lights when they leave.

    Apple is about to completed the “Apple Spaceship” in Cupertino, California, but it’s anyone’s guess how long that will remain with an Apple logo on the building. Many buildings during the dot com days gave up their name plaques and now have another name on the building. At least in Germany, you can still find family owned companies, some going back 300-years. For example Zollern GmbH was founded in 1708 and is still running with over 3,000 employees world wide. I doubt Apple will have such luck.

    The only difference between Detroit and Silicon Valley is software doesn’t need brick and mortar. My son is a software engineer for Deutsche Bahn and works out of his home. He visits the office only when he has to.

    Manufacturing will always require buildings due to the physical nature of the products. Software, by it’s nature, can be done virtually anywhere.

  14. >The technological age is a different animal. It tends to erase its own footsteps.

    Dunno, we’re having this conversation on the Internet, using computers with architectures going back several decades. How is that different from us driving cars on highways built decades ago (renovated several times over)?

    I understand that Lotus was sold and cannibalized. However, Ford, Chrysler et al have been bought and sold by international conglomerates many times over. What’s the difference?

    >Men have lived their lives in order to be remembered since the dawn of time. Maybe as the Industrial Revolution resulted in different people and different social arrangements, this age is doing the same and the new man of the new economy is just a stranger passing through, uninterested in leaving footprints for future generations to examine.

    The great fortunes of the 19th and 20th century were made in industries the contemplation of which does not leave me with the warm glow of your description of Lotus in its heyday. Standard Oil, Carnegie Steel, JP Morgan, etc. The oligarchs who built them turned around and put their money into foundations and endowments like the Carnegie Foundation for World Peace, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation etc., which then directed it into various activities that are directly responsible for most of the bad things going on with Western society. For instance, the Carnegie Foundation got the US into WW1, created the American Historical Association, etc. The Rockefeller Foundation sponsored mass chemical birth control (and a lot of Rockefeller wealth went into building up the USSR). These guys really made Soros look like a piker.

    Gates is, in his own little way, trying to do the same, but it’s not very impressive.

    To be honest, I sort of prefer today’s titans of industry waste their money on ostentatious spending. I’d rather have Cuban blowing cash than Carnegie trying to engineer

    • Well, the descendants of Form Motor Company still control the company. Name a tech company with a son or daughter of the founder running it today?

  15. I work for a 100 yr old manufacturer, we deal in custom engineered products for the petrochemical and other related markets, steam turbines and gas compressors. Technology has changed us and our product over the years, but slowly. We were, in the 1930s a very horizontal company. We had our own foundry, a tooling company, and a wide berth of markets and products – as did our competitors around us. There were about 5 or more of us in the US alone before 1970, now ther are two and we are both foreign owned.
    Over time specialization of manufacturing and markets trimmed us to a more vertical and focused company. Today we outsource foundry and some machining processes. Our products last 50 to 75 years back then and today may give a bit longer life service.
    So we are an old brick and mortar company that is a not interesting for many young techies. However that will change. High tech didn’t pass us by, but didn’t offer us great advancements. Advancements came in three places:
    1) computer processing. For drawings to Finite Element Analysis. Engineers can do more than before due to processing power. Franckly they do more. Computers allow to look at engineering more detailed than what was economic prior, so our products are better engineered, more sound.
    2) Manufacuring. Processes: From machining to welding there were continual small advancements. Today tolerances are tighter and welding methods better, meaning higher efficiencies, less vibration and more reliability.
    3) Materials: We went from Pig Iron, to Carbon steels to stainless and alloys. Better metal means better suited for service, more Reliablity.
    All these advancements came slowly.
    I think now that high tech has gone from infancy to adolescences we will see more quick advances in our industry. Printing components are not cost efficient today, but they will be in about 10 yrs, newer materials and other Manufacuring methods will also likely advance and maybe even take us away from metals.
    What I want to leave you with is that high tech has made minimal advances to older tech. I think both industries will now likely come into closer harmony and will reinvigorate the US rust belt in the coming years..

  16. The core problem is the primacy of markets in modern society. Aggregate demand has little thought for the long term. Without guidance and a sense of larger sense of purpose, commerce runs rampant. The technological age perhaps just accelerates and magnifies the damage.

  17. The shortsighted live-in-the-moment mentality exists because it “works” in the sense that people can easily obtain near-term reward in exchange for the flimsy promise of some future labor or productivity. The elite’s strategy behind this induced addiction is to create a large cohort of indentured servants that can be controllably manipulated down the road. At the least, this means reliable votes to ensure incumbency; but there is also a naive belief that compensating labor will eventually be recovered, one way or another. And this belief is founded on the presumption that a parasite will magically become a worker bee when commanded to become productive.

    What happens when this scenario does not play out as planned?

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