At the end of every year, magazines, newspapers, pundits and chuckleheaded bloggers like me all do what we used to call “thumbsuckers” back in my old newspapering days. We kick our feet back on our desks, stare up at the stained asbestos-laced soundbrick ceiling and pretend that we have some special powers of insight & prediction.
Mostly, it’s an excuse to churn out a weekly column without having to try to get people on the phone for an interview during the holiday season.
With that in mind, let’s check out a blast from the past – I chose the predictions made in Fortune magazine back in 2004, at the very height of the artificial subprime boom market, as a means of demonstrating how off-base we can be.
First, there’s the cover story itself:
Remember, this was right after Google had had its fabled rocket-like IPO, and not so long after it had been on the auction block to the much larger & entrenched rival Yahoo! for about $1Bn. All us dot-bomb 1.0 refugees were still a little stunned & dazed from the implosion, and the utter skepticism of financial markets towards anything in the tech sector had not yet been hit by the Apple iPhone/app store wrecking ball.
So maybe they were justified in saying galactically stupid things like: “Far from hailing Google as the next eBay or even the next Microsoft (search the web on that phrase and Google’s name does come up), the skeptics see Google as just the latest dot-com-bubble stock”
“For all its impressive technology and verve, Google, as noted earlier, has no such clear competitive advantage [as Microsoft then did]. That ma help explain why – as was true during the late, great dot-com bubble – many insiders are rushing for the exits. Three top executives, engineering chief Wayne Rossing, general counsel David Drummond, and HR chief Shona Brown, said in SEC filings at the end of November that they had sold blocks of stock worth millions of dollars.”
“Google seems well positioned to repeat or even exceed that impressive corporate performance. Just don’t bet the rent money on it.”
Obviously, the trauma of the dot-com collapse persisted, even four years later. How long is the much larger, deeper, and more far-reaching real-estate & banking collapse going to linger, I wonder?
Moving on, here’s what Fortune picked as some of the best new products of the year:
That’s right. It’s a phone where you dial the number using an iPod clickwheel, and where you twist the body of the phone around so you can see yourself in a mirror. Or something.
Actual quote: “Good design is about knowing what to leave out. Nokia left out the dialing pad […] place your call via speech recognition.”
Good consumer purchasing decision are about not buying fuckwitted designs. Looking at this, the GPS watch (Ooo! Find yourself on Everest!) and the transvaginal ultrasound-looking vacuum cleaner, I gotta wonder exactly what the criteria were to pick a product as “Best.” Was it really about being something that millions/billions would find useful, or was it just about compiling a list of niche products that nobody heard of that make you look smart? (Not that I am immune to such impulses myself. Ahem.)
Finally, the big ad on the back cover says a lot about the tone & tenor of the times:
Yeah, that’s right. A Hummer. Shown here as a “sport utility truck”. The best trend in Los Angeles is that the spike in gas prices has meant that there are fewer and fewer of these absurd road pigs clogging up the highways, weaving erratically in and out of lanes as the narcissist behind the wheel tries to work the scroll wheel on his Nokia phone to call the mortgage broker to buy another dozen or so “investment properties” out in Rancho Cucamonga.
Ah, irrational bubbles. It seems like everything will work, pretty much because there’s so much crazy money flying around the economy, that nothing is too stupid not to find a desperate buyer. As opposed to the current economic climate, where it seems like nothing will work, because even the most brilliant new innovation struggles to find backing.