Our crystal ball

Salon Technology and Business makes its predictions for 2001.


Recession? What recession?

In April, just as the NASDAQ is bottoming out at 1,632.46, a strange thing happens: iVillage.com turns a profit. It’s a small profit, but the company is indeed in the black. A week later, Ask.com proudly announces that it, too, managed to make money in the first quarter of 2001, followed swiftly by similar announcements from theglobe.com, drkoop.com and, finally, Amazon.com. It seems that all the belt-tightening and dwindling competition really have turned the industry around.

Spurred on by these surprise recoveries, the economy immediately bounces back, perhaps too far back. The NASDAQ soars to late-1999 heights as investors frantically pick up dot-com stocks hoping to get them on the cheap before the companies turn profits. Venture capitalists go on pet-portal funding binges and entrepreneurs who once steered clear of Silicon Valley return in droves, driving real-estate prices even higher. Lear jet sales go through the roof as proud executives feel the need to spend their fledgling profits. Will they ever learn?

Bill Gates gets a promotion

George W. Bush yearns to prove his business chops to the world. He’s not just some failed two-bit oil baron! He really gets this whole “new economy” thing! So, soon after Bill Gates invites Bush over to test-drive Microsoft’s latest e-book software, Dubya appoints Gates to be chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.

Gates’ first act is to drop the antitrust case against Microsoft. Then the new antitrust cowboy turns his attention to monolith AOL Time Warner. Now there’s a monopoly if the Redmond, Wash., operating system scion ever saw one.

No more singing in the rain

Congress, goaded by Hollywood and the major record labels, passes an amendment to the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The amendment makes it illegal to sing along with copyrighted songs or to quote lines from movies in conversation. Anyone caught infringing the law faces immediate incarceration; third-time offenders risk the death penalty. Bush — always an advocate of capital punishment and not so great at remembering lyrics anyway — signs the legislation as soon as it hits his desk.

FuckedCompany gets a taste of its own medicine

FuckedCompany.com gets fucked. Everyone’s favorite happy slander site shuts down in the wake of multiple lawsuits for libel and slander. The latest doom-and-gloom industry gossip is apparently addictive reading not only for dot-commers nervous about losing their jobs but for attorneys as well. The last straw is when eBay’s stock price plummets 75 percent in three hours after a bogus rumor about Meg Whitman’s leaving the company floats on the slander site. EBay shareholders launch a class-action lawsuit and Philip “Pud” Kaplan, the Fuckedcompany fry cook, files for bankruptcy. But Pud digs himself out of the hole by hitting the corporate lecture circuit. Soon he’s giving two speeches a week, for $50,000 a pop, to senior executives at Fortune 500 companies on how to create a “viral” Web site.

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Bill Joy was wrong

The world does not end. Contrary to the dire predictions of Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, computers do not self-replicate, spew gray goo or do anything that leads to Armageddon. Indeed, men and women all over the globe continue to coexist with desktop computers, laptops, cellphones and hand-held personal assistants — screaming at them, kicking them and generally expressing the same intense feelings of “love” they’ve always had for all things digital.

AOL Time Warner turns out to be not so hot

One day in mid-2001, AOL Time Warner workers are roused from their corner offices for a stunning announcement: The company has fallen prey to a hostile takeover by Am I Hot or Not.com. Within minutes, crowds of pinstriped execs crowd bathroom mirrors in a preening frenzy rivaling the men’s bathroom at Studio 54. Gerald Levin makes a mad dash to the gym while Steve Case cancels his power lunch for an emergency Barney’s binge.

Those privy to the details of the takeover say it was only a matter of time before the multibillion-dollar media monolith succumbed to the unbeatable simplicity of the online meat market. “Let’s face it,” says one insider, “who wouldn’t rather pass a few hours trashing strangers’ looks than watching CNN?” Meanwhile, shareholders rejoice at the subsequent announcement that all business matters will be decided by popular vote — at Am I Hot or Not.com.

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