A kinder, gentler Dottie Downturn

Shamed by her own vituperation, Salon's queen of dot-com barbs vows to be more compassionate. Maybe.

Published August 24, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Dottie Downturn,

Why are you so mean? You swathe your so-called advice under a veneer of hoity-toity rhetoric, but all you really deliver is scorn and contempt. Is no one worthy of your respect?

Curious in Calistoga

Dear Curious,

Dottie read your letter and, after perusing her old columns, immediately had to mix herself a double mint julep. And not just because anyone who habitually refers to herself in the third person clearly needs an extended dose of therapy. (If Dottie were inclined to be hip, she might exclaim, "How wack is that?!" but she isn't, so she won't.)

Perhaps Dottie's bitterness dates back to that cold July day when the clerk handling claims at the unemployment office laughed out loud at her dot-com risumi, sneering, "Those stock options won't keep you very warm during this San Francisco summer, missy!" Or perhaps it goes even deeper, to a feeling of betrayal that Dottie is certain is shared by more than one veteran of the not-so-new-anymore economy.

Where did we go wrong? Once upon a time, San Francisco loved us. Back in the days when Netscape and Yahoo and eBay were surging into prominence, the emergence of the Internet economy was widely regarded as the engine that would pull California out of a debilitating recession. We were stoking the fires of the entire world economy, and that was seen as a good thing. Before the Net came along, Californians alarmed at a shrinking economic pie organized against immigrants, whom they accused of stealing their jobs. Now dot-commers are despised for creating jobs!

But thank you for your question. Dottie feels rightfully rebuked, and hereby vows to be a kinder, gentler Dottie. She has stared into the black pit of dot-com despair and come out stronger for it. Not entirely sane, perhaps, but certainly more compassionate.

Dear Dottie Downturn,

I've worked for a mega-huge tech company for five years that has had both ups and downs. Recently, due to several months of poor leadership, the customer got upset and now I and my team are under house arrest just in case something goes wrong and someone needs to be found in a hurry.

It just so happened that the guy in charge himself blew the on-call page-out, and the customer went into foaming-at-the-mouth fits and shakes as things melted down in the server room.

Analysis and reports were of course done. Management has agreed that he blew it. And he's being allowed to have all of us take the heat as well. Once a week we are under a mandatory 24-hour on-call shift to "fix" a perception problem. I have no training, career goals or willingness to fix the type of problems that may occur, but I know I have the leadership inclination to stage a coup. Any advice on how to stage a successful uprising when even a major screw-up can't unseat El Capitan?

Stuck in the Pokey in San Ramon

Dear Stuck,

The new Dottie is filled with empathy at your plight, even if she is perplexed as to the meaning of "on-call page-out" -- can't you just say he forgot to turn on his pager? Choosing the right time and strategy for a successful coup is one of the hardest challenges an ambitious employee can face. Office politics can be messy, and it takes real courage and determination to trample across the backs of colleagues who may at one time have been your friends.

Dottie says look into your heart and choose the tactics that feel right. Are you lazy and looking for a quick fix? Hack into your boss's computer, stuff the Netscape cache with animal porn and scream "sexual harassment." Or are you feeling a bit more Machiavellian? Dottie's favorite tactic in this kind of situation is to send an anonymous e-mail to your company's venture capitalist backers, alerting them that if a certain executive's plans are carried out, the company will actually reach profitability earlier than expected. The VCs will not be able to abide that -- they want you to miss your numbers so you'll have to borrow more money, dilute employee control and give the VCs the power to gut the company as they see fit after the IPO is a done deal. Drop the word and the VCs will have your boss locked out of his office before he can say the words "day-trading portfolio."

Dear Dottie Downturn,

I live in Noe Valley and have been commuting down to Silicon Valley for the last 15 years. I've been working for boring companies that make things and have profits, stock options that I cash in for moderate amounts, etc. Soooo ... how do I get into this dot-com thing and get a job back in S.F.? The traffic down 280 is starting to get obnoxious. My house is almost paid for and I cannot imagine living in Sunnyvale.

P.S. I've been using the Internet for about eight years and played around with Mosaic long before the term "Web" even existed. And I'm still here at a company making chips.

Sick of Commuting to Silicon Valley

Dear Sick,

Dottie had to gulp down another double mint julep -- this time, hold the mint -- after reading your missive. Complaints about commuting strike a raw nerve in Dottie not covered by the new 12-step pain-management plan recommended by Dottie's online anger management advisors. Please try to gain some perspective.

Do you think laborers in Shanghai complain about the commute as they journey back and forth to Pudong to work on the latest skyscraper? No, they're quite happy just to have real jobs -- like most of the real world, excepting certain residents of Northern California who believe they were born entitled to a $250,000 product management gig that is just a stroll through the redwoods away from their faux-Japanese villa. Traffic jams are indicators of strong economic activity. Every minute stuck on Highway 101 staring at dot-com billboards is another minute during which Cisco and Sun are growing at a rate of 40 percent. You should be thankful.

Dottie has been watching a lot of movies on her VCR lately as she waits for a hot tip from Monster.com or HotJobs.com. Last night, she saw "Falling Down" -- the film in which Michael Douglas, a laid-off aerospace engineer, loses his cool during a traffic jam and goes on a wild spree through Los Angeles. Dottie had a bourbon-addled epiphany during the film. Think about it -- those aerospace geeks built that traffic jam. Their military-industrial-complex-funded missile boondoggles gave birth to the Southern California economic miracle -- and thus eventually to Douglas' ensuing berserk meanderings through the City of Angels.

Cheer up and enjoy the ride. Dottie hopes that you won't be similarly twisted by your commuting woes -- and not just because she doesn't need the job-hunting competition. Dottie is saddened that you find your chip manufacturing job boring. Chips built this valley! Without chips there would be no dot-com economy. It's time for you to buy the books-on-tape version of "The New New Thing," turn down your air conditioning and start learning how to love a life that passes by at a languid 5 miles per hour.

Dear Dottie Downturn,

I've been reading a faux "advice" column (at one of my favorite Web sites) which focuses on the recent slump in the Web economy. At first it was funny, then it was just a little amusing and now it's downright clichid. What should I do? How do I relate to the irony that the Web site hosting this answer column is soon likely to be roadkill itself?

Cruelly Ironic in Cupertino

Dear Cruelly Ironic,

It is one thing to be accused of being mean. It's quite another to be denigrated as "faux" and "clichid." Dottie senses that you yourself have already worked for more than a few failed dot-coms, and can't handle the sorry truth recorded in your own C.V. Or perhaps you invested some of your own not-so-hard-earned cash in a certain Web site, and are now peeved that you may never see that money again.

Whatever the case, Dottie has always considered irony to be cheap wit that's barely worth its price. Come back when you have a real problem, rather than some shoddily disguised schadenfreude.

Dear Dottie Downturn,

After a 10-year stint in the music business, I took a job at a fairly well-known dot-com (which is very well funded). Thinking this would be an office full of interesting, artistic and intelligent people, I remained true to myself and brought a lava lamp to the office and stuck a Rhino Records calendar on my wall.

Here's the rub: I've been advised to conform. My peers are khaki-wearing MBAs with stay-at-home wives and a fetish for Excel and PowerPoint. While I've made an effort to wear more khaki and less denim (and have mastered PowerPoint), a small part of me feels like I've sold out. Have I?

Troubled in Dot-Com Maine

Dear Troubled,

Oh, for the love of crikey, who could possibly have the strength to be kinder or gentler in a world where the question of khakis -- pro or con -- is deemed of any significance whatsoever? Forget the mint, and forget the julep. Just leave the Maker's Mark on the table.

Let's see if I have this straight. You left the music business, which is infamous for being the most scum-sucking of all greedy middleman rackets, shamelessly exploiting artists and crushing all originality to feed the consumerist mass pop culture maw. And now you toil in some dorky dot-com cube-to-cube with a bunch of business school geeks who have bad fashion.

Are you a sellout? No. In fact, this new job may be the one chance you have to redeem your mortal soul. Making a few trivial minor concessions to fit into a blander corporate culture is nothing compared with looking hipper than thou while feeding off a parasitic corporate music system that sucks the art out of music and the money out of musicians.

Now, if you told me that you'd taken to demanding that your wife quit her six-figure job in order to find full-time fulfillment in Mop & Glo, then I might be worried about you. Just don't start putting your to-do list into PowerPoint.

Dear Dottie Downturn,

I'm on the dot-com fringe at most -- I teach at an Australian university -- but have developed a couple of online courses that include students from all over the world and generally dabble in Web publishing. A recent newspaper article here involved a fair amount of handwringing over "cyber-bludging": spending time shopping on the Net, browsing, sending personal e-mail and so on during work time.

Now this is my life -- I spend quite large chunks of each working day doing things like, um, reading Salon religiously for a start! I subscribe to newsgroups about cyberpunk fiction and Megadeth, and e-mail lots of people for lots of reasons.

I'm still incredibly productive, however. For us academics, productivity is mostly measured in publications, and I'm sitting on about three times what's expected of me and about 10 times what most of my colleagues are producing. The mucking about in cyberspace is time for the old subconscious to churn through ideas and input, then the papers pretty much write themselves.

So, am I a cyber-bludger? A thief? An immoral person?

Slacking Off in Sidney

Dear Slacking Off,

Oh, please. Don't try to pull on Dottie Downturn's jock. Your letter reads more like an excuse to brag about your overachiever tendencies than an earnest question. Boohoo. You're doing more work than all your colleagues, but you're worried that your Web surfing makes you a bad guy. But on the off-chance that you are sincere, let me be frank.

"Cyber-bludging" is yet another of those trumped-up phenomena that editors cook up to wring frothy stories out of nothing on dead news days. If anything, you should be spending more time trolling the Megadeth newsgroups and reading Web accounts about what happened on "Big Brother" last night, and less time attempting to show up your more lackadaisical colleagues. Think of it as your duty to your fellow worker: surf more, show off less.

Dear Dottie Downturn,

Yeah, I have a question regarding your advice to Distressed, in the Mission.

What makes you think you and your ilk can avoid "What goes around comes around"? With your attitude of screw-everyone-but-us, "Dot-com Scumbag" seems to me to be a fitting descriptive for you "Agents of Gentrification." Bank on it, when I see you in the bread line, bitch, I'm going to cut you dead.

Murderous in the Mission

Dear Murderous,

If Dottie were feeling charitable, she might imagine that you are making a lame stab at satire as part of some feebleminded imitation of people who actually have the craft to crack jokes.

But despite her resolution to change her ways and seek a higher incarnation of Dottie-ness, Dottie is no longer feeling charitable. Perhaps it's her premonition that tomorrow's sunrise will bring nothing but a bad hangover and a job offer from the marketing department of an online black-market Viagra retail outlet, or perhaps it's her regretful inability to put up with idiocy for longer than 10 minutes at a time. Whatever.

If you think that you stand a chance of getting any bread at all when Dottie stands between you and the free food, you are unfortunately mistaken. Dottie has tangled with venture capitalists and Microsoft public relations executives. She has even been to Comdex, more than once. Your petty threats -- after all, you've probably been evicted two or three times this year already -- do not frighten her.

And how about you, dear reader? Do you have qualms about proper behavior in the new dot-com economy? Please send all questions to Dottie Downturn.

By Dottie Downturn

A former full-time employee of Salon.com now enjoying the freelance life, Dottie Downturn is convinced that layoffs aren't as bad as rude people say they are.

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