Monday, February 04, 2013

How long does it take to get boring?

When I was a teenager, IBM was going bust, a senile old man surrounded by the young turks like Intel and Microsoft. Well, except Intel had been around for an age, and Microsoft never felt young and exciting. But what do adolescents fed on overcaffeinated beverages know about anything?

IBM faded away out of our consciousnesses, from the company nobody lost their jobs buying from, to the company you vaguely heard somebody used to buy things from. Microsoft got bigger and bigger without ever being beloved, and then Google appeared, the young and ethical new company that only believed in not doing evil.

Years rush past, and IBM retooled itself into a company full of very clever people, telling me in very dry tones about their precognitive terrorist predicting data mining, before Minority Report was a gleam in Tom Cruise's dentistry. Microsoft was a huge dinosaur that everyone was waiting for Google to kill, and Google was still cool.

Then gradually Google became the Microsoft of the 2000s: from the cool company you wanted to work for but probably couldn't, into the company that was a safe option. Did that happen faster than it transmogified from a really good search engine into a giant classified ads machine?

Facebook became the new and exciting thing, which relegated Google, which meant Microsoft was ... Still evil, apparently. But somewhere along the line they started making games consoles, and sort of being cool. Was that cool as in oh-so-retro, like a hipster wearing his dad's sports jacket for ironic effect?

What was IBM up to? Apparently down at their campus near Portsmouth they have a company train set. What could be cooler than that?

Working for Facebook, apparently. At least until the shares spontaneously disintegrated and all the people who bought the shares got mad at them. I know how it feels. I worked for, after all.

Now it's all very confusing. Is Facebook still cool? Who's the new new thing that's better, that will show that Facebook is Google and Google is Microsoft and Microsoft is now the new funky IBM rather than the old ponderous IBM, which means the new funky IBM is now actually General Electric, and they're exciting because they're attached to a plastic plane that might be flaming out in the skies near you shortly. It's enough to make you want to give up and work for HMV, which has never been cool but has sold a lot of music. And then gone bust.

Not that you should work for a company because it's a cool company. Coolness, like the future, isn't distributed evenly, unless you think the guy who drives the bus that takes the Googlers to work has as cool a job as the guy who designs super-intelligent sunglasses. I'm not saying you can't enjoy being the person who washes the dishes that all those free meals get eaten off, it's just that's probably not what people think working for a cool company entails.

Maybe you should work for a company that sounds dull, but turns out to be interesting. Insurance gets a bad rap, but then it involves bad things happening to careless (or unlucky) people, which is like being paid to experience schadenfreude, and if AIG were bad enough to turn the US economy inside out, you may have to recalibrate what "safe" and "boring" mean to you.

Or maybe everything's cool if you look carefully enough. Hey, I just watched a digital video from the year 2000, and it's amazing how much better the year 2013 is. Feel sorry for the youngsters: they don't even realise they're living in the future. What's left for them to look forward to?


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