Exit stage tech

On my way to work this morning, I nearly fell over at the sight of The Toronto Sun‘s front page. “”Stones Tragedy,”” read the headline, below which sat photos of paramedics and a zombie-like Keith Richards. It appeared the Rolling Stones guitarist, whose punishing lifestyle has had him on the

death watch for some 30 years, had finally succumbed to mortality.

A closer inspection revealed the deceased was actually a Stone’s crew member, and Keef miraculously is still kicking about. Had my first notion been correct, it would have meant the third recent death among classic rock’s glitterati, following those of Who bassist John Entwistle and former Beatle George Harrison, whose shining moment was the aptly titled “”All Things Must Pass.””

There’s little chance Harrison was singing about IT in that classic, but a walk around Comdex Canada last week made it evident that the glow that surrounded the industry has indeed passed. The show floor, once so big it had to be housed in the Skydome, occupied only about half the Metro Toronto Convention Centre space it did last year, itself a down year for IT. The booth bunnies were absent, having hopped off to the auto show with the rock ‘n’ roll attitude and accompanying soundtrack. Where once every company had a toy to give away, this year it was tough to find a free pen. It might as well have been a restaurant industry convention.

A smaller-than-usual turnout at the last Comdex Las Vegas show was attributed to security and economic concerns post-Sept. 11. But the small showing in Toronto is confirmation that the glitz is gone. IT has become just another industry. Instead of power chords and thumping rhythms, we now have musak.

The lack of free trinkets notwithstanding, the lost shine is a good thing. Why? Because now that the hype is officially over, now that the stock prices fueled by greed and hyperbole worthy of P.T. Barnum have tanked, IT companies can simply focus on creating products that make us more productive and profitable and hopefully (I know I’m reaching here) allow us to lead more fulfilling lives. Especially now, when IT spending is tight, the need to create solutions that actually add value is all too apparent. It’s hard to believe there was a time when calling an online bookseller revolutionary wasn’t absurd.

During a Comdex panel, Hewlett-Packard Canada president Paul Tsaparis suggested the current swirl of doubt surrounding corporate governance would be a boon in the long term as the pressure for accountability would actually produce healthier, stronger companies. I would argue the same is true for the death of IT hype and pomp.

Remember CEOs as rock stars, tech is sexy, Revenge of the Nerds? It’s doubtful that sheen will ever fully return to IT for the simple reason that IT no longer holds huge promise for Joe Public. What really drove the tech boom, at least where the media and popular culture were concerned, were IPOs and crazy stock valuations that made the dream of vast riches seem reachable to everyone with a Web site.

Sure, some new IT phenomenon could arise and rekindle the hopes of the masses, bedazzle the mass media and inspire the next generation of booth bunnies and vendor toys. After all, I was too quick to jump to conclusions about Keith Richards. If Keef can continue winning his game of chicken with the Grim Reaper, IT might once again make the pages of Rolling Stone. But we’re probably better off if it doesn’t.

Comment: pfruitman@itbusiness.ca

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