Startup Fictions & The Link Age {1995-2010}

After producing four editions of BarCamp Leeds between 2007 and 2010, I figured I should finally speak at one of my own events!

I'd originally planned to host a screening of August as part of the LSx2010 fringe. A little known 2008 movie starring Josh Hartnett, that chronicles the ambitions of a pair of dotcom entrepreneurs. I couldn't clear the rights in time, so this evolved into a BarCamp screening of The Startup, a short documentary about a young startup trying to make it in NYC, produced by the creators of the NYC 3.0 blog, as an experiment in hyperlocal journalism.

Rather than just play some video, I figured bookending the screening with some opening remarks and a round table discussion would give some useful context and open up a discussion.

Curiously, wandering through several media representations of startup and dotcom culture, ranging from novels and movies to documentaries and TV series, I found that a discussion of the media representation of dotcoms, seemed to be more interesting than actually showing them! 

So here are my slides, covering a period stretching from Douglas Coupland's 1995 novel Microserfs to Aaron Sorkin's upcoming movie, The Social Network

So yeah…

  • Friends' Matthew Perry narrated the audiobook edition of Microserfs
  • ER's Noah Wyle played Steve Jobs in Pirates of Silicon Valley and an actual Stevenote!
  • 2001 was the peak of dotcom media – with Tim Robbins as a murdering monopolist, David Walliams as an anal web designer in BBC's Attachments and the superb documentary
  • David Bowie has played a cane-wielding venture capitalist in a movie also starring Jason Calacanis…!
  • The Social Network will be produced by Kevin Spacey, directed by David Fincher (of Fight Club) and star Justin Timberlake!

Invariably, most media on dotcoms is populated with an unlikeable panoply of awkward nerds, highly strung creatives, greedy monopolists or megalomaniacal “desktop despots”. Did old media look upon new media with a sense of envy, foreshadowing its own fading relevance? With little observable idealism and drama, is all that's visible simply a radiant greed, vanity and self-importance to the observer? 

Since 1998, I’ve worked in a half dozen startups, variously as a founder, board director or early-stage employee. Every culture has been unique, but generally staffed by an intoxicating mix of idealists, iconoclasts & visionaries.

And that's where I believe the truth lies – this industry has an abundance of idealism and vision, where the # displaces the $ and a gift economy gives us Wikipedia, Firefox and Linux; for every Facebook, there's an Ushahidi.

It's unsurprising that mainstream media has found an awkwardness in portraying how this generation created a new mind for an old species;  we need some distance and perspective to really assess this epoch through fiction – although the BBC's Virtual Revolution was a great attempt.

My 1995-2010 snapshot will one day stretch to 2060. At the end of my life, as I'm prepared for my post-human future in the Amazon ∞ cloud, somewhere there'll be a great movie launching…of this pivotal period in civilisation - The Link Age.

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