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DECEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 12



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CURRENT BYTES & PICAS

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The internet is a haven for holiday shopping rebels

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The Joy of Retro Computing

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GARY BAUM is a contibuting writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.


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NOTE: The Bytes & Picas section now features news and reviews of the gadget culture, including video games, technology, the internet and marketing strategies.

E-Christmas 2.0: Deflowering the Digital Debutante GARY BAUM

In late 1994, when fourteen-year-old webmasters were only nine, the Internet as we know it (read: marketable websites and electronic business strategies) came into existence. In the intervening years a harsh realm that used to be home only to those who embraced technology for its own sake began to share their community with those who wanted to profit from it. In December of last year, the first so-called "e-Christmas" was hyped to the max as the commercial world made its first foray onto the Internet, creating a digital debutante of power, money and greed. This year, due to a solid economy and the confidence of the offline marketplace, it will surely grow stronger.

Holiday shopping has long been a part of our modern life. At the end of each year, most of the Judeo-Christian population of the North American continent begins a buying frenzy. They spend more than they can afford on things that they don't really need (and would not otherwise purchase) between Thanksgiving and the twenty-fifth of December, gratifying their annual thirst for, well, stuff.

In the past, department stores, catalogues and, more recently, the Home Shopping Network had become the major beneficiaries of this consumerism boost. However, the economy as a whole has, historically, received a firm smack on its collective rear end to create a feeling of optimism each December as the business world enters the New Year.

But now things are changing. A profit-making paradigm shift of epic proportions will ultimately, irreversibly change the state of the holiday shopping season and, eventually, the very nature of business itself. That shift will not only be the root of many more successful retail-related IPOs in the near future, but also a revolutionary transition in the way everyone's favorite spender, Average Joe, rids himself of his hard-earned cash.

Over the past few years, Average Joe has gained the option of deciding whether to go to the local mall to do his consuming or to stay at home and shop online in his underwear.

David Neuman

Many start-up Internet properties, including the Digital Entertainment Network, are betting on the latter. David Neuman (right), the president of DEN, a company providing television-style programming on the Internet, told Detour magazine in November that he envied the fact that during television's Golden Age executives had the opportunity to invent revolutionary programming because "the medium was new and there was nothing but uncharted terrain." "The Internet," Neuman believes, "is the opportunity for me and my generation of creative people to get our crack at virgin territory."

Echoing Neuman's view, Internet publishing hotshot and proprietor of the influential Silicon Alley Reporter, Jason Calacanis, explained in an October issue of the New Yorker that "people always say, 'I wish I was around in the fifties so I could have been there for the revolution of TV, or the twenties for the revolution in film, or the sixties so I could have been a radical.' But this is it: you're in it. I tell people, Dare to be great. This is the time."

Such a carpe diem attitude will certainly continue the venture capitalist stream of cash into places like San Jose and Austin, but what does it mean to Average Joe, our faithful underwear-clad online consumer? Well, at least for this second year's e-Christmas, it will mean that the hype will far exceed the reality of the situation. Yes, it is true that the intrinsic advantages of the Internet, based around its amazing advances in communication, will definitely help to create an ultimately better shopping experience for Average Joe.

But this is a long way off. The reason is because Internet shopping is still years away from being, as a whole, a more efficient and overall better experience than its offline counterpart. In the meantime, servers will crash, IPOs will fail, and gift orders will be fudged many times before the retail-based holiday shopping industry perfects its online presence. In truth, the Internet gold rush will have slowed to a trickle before the true merits of online consumerism will be known.

Emerson once said that "this time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it." His 19th century words still ring true in this 21st century technological situation. That is, the ultimate success of this radically new way of consuming is entirely dependent on how people like Neuman and Calacanis handle it now, before the digital honeymoon is over. And if they succeed, Average Joe will undoubtedly follow.

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