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Wed, Mar 13, 2002 - Page 21 News List

Hipsters whine as Net becomes mainstream

AFP , SAN FRANCISCO

It's been one setback after another in the boom and bust online world. But the cruelest insult of all, that the Internet is now ordinary and middle-class, has sent Internet hipsters reeling.

"I almost thought about jumping off the Golden Gate when I heard about it," wailed tattooed software engineer Mary Neilly, musing a plunge from the famous San Francisco bridge. "It really is a depressing development."

San Francisco has been engulfed by its share of social movements, welcoming hippies and free love in the 1960s and the gay revolution of the 1970s.

In the 1990s, spurred by growth in Silicon Valley to the south, the city by the bay birthed the Internet cultural revolution. Young people with dyed hair and pierced appendages flocked to write code for the hundreds of start-up Internet companies that promised to make capitalism cool.

Chronicling the movement was Wired magazine, which fed its young workers organic, vegan lunches and staged drug-soaked raves celebrating its technology-fueled makeover of the old order.

Obsolete commander in chief?

In its first issue, Wired bragged that the digital revolution created cultural upheavals so immense "that their only parallel is probably the discovery of fire."

The magazine predicted the president of the US would be rendered obsolete as would newspapers, replaced instead with personal online editions called "The Daily Me."

Wired subsequently achieved another milestone as the first Internet venture to fail spectacularly, after investors quashed its initial public offering and killed expansion plans, forcing the sale of the magazine to the boringly mainstream (read: profitable) Conde Nast chain.

Hundreds of Internet companies followed Wired's example, as investors wised up to the realization that wild promises of Internet potential were not backed by viable plans for profit.

These days, San Francisco is pockmarked with the empty offices that once housed the vegetarian workers.

Telling someone you work for a dotcom these days, said one bartender, "is like saying you're an insurance broker."

Last week, cool finally slipped from the fingers of the young, hip and alternative.

A better consumer trap

According to a leading technology consultancy, the Internet is now an everyday utility for America's middle-aged middle class.

What was once cutting edge is now ordinary, said New York's Jupiter Media Metrix, predicting most Internet shoppers in the next five years will be 35 years-old or older and earning between US$30,000 to US$75,000 annually.

Further insult was wrought by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which reported a decline in the number of email users, who were using the once-revolutionary technology to accomplish mundane tasks like booking flights and checking stock portfolios.

"The status of the Internet is shifting from being the dazzling new thing to being a purposeful tool that Americans use to help them with some of life's important tasks," Pew researchers concluded.

A bitter pill to swallow for the hipsters, who seem to be going the way of the hippie.

"It feels like I'm in the aftermath of an explosion," said Ken Goffman, who under the name RU Sirius wrote a number of books and articles extolling the tech culture.

"It all leaves me without a connection to something that's optimistic."

"But we were pretty delusional, of course."

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