MORPH: Defenestrating the internet

MORPH: Defenestrating the internet

In 1419, or so the story goes, several city councilors in the medieval town of Prague were thrown from the windows of the Town Hall by their political opponents.

This strange expression of political will or, more precisely, a convenient method of assassination came to be known as the First Defenestration of Prague. The Second Defenestration of Prague in 1618 was not as successful as the first (this time it was the governors of Bohemia who flew out the window and, luckily for them, landed on a pile of medieval garbage), but it certainly helped "defenestration" find its way into the social and political language of the time. So, what does this have to do with the Australian IT channel in 2001, you ask. Bear with me and all will be revealed!

Over the centuries, defenestration (de + the Latin fenestra, "window" + ation) came to mean different things. During the Great Depression, for instance, it was used to describe the socio-economic plague which made many a desperate soul opt out of this life via a window sill. A similar fate befell many a Gordon Gekko facing the aftermath of the "greed is good" ‘80s.

More recently, defenestration's been used by apolitical GUI-users to describe the process of dragging a graphical element out of a window and onto the screen. The more politically minded open system crusaders, on the other hand, still refer to "the act of completely removing Microsoft Windows from a PC in favor of a better OS (preferably Linux)" as - you guessed it - defenestration.

Whichever way you look at it, the common theme of falling, being pushed or throwing something or someone out a window has stuck to this day. Etymologically speaking, there is nothing unusual about this, for the word "defenestration" means exactly that - to throw something out a window. It is the underlying assumption that discarding something by impulsively throwing it to almost certain death will somehow improve matters (not that I want to be gloomy, but piles of garbage happen only to the luckiest or the shrewdest among us ) that is of interest here.

Think the Internet. Not so long ago, a global mix of brokers, venture capitalists and shareholders, united in their intent to make a quick buck, happily participated in the biggest display of bread-and-circuses mentality since the debauched ‘80s. The dot-com fever was a circus, all right. But there seemed to be enough bread and entertainment for the mob to follow. And follow they did. However, as soon as the first shortage of dough became apparent, the whole Internet idea went out the window.

Of course, the defenestration of anything dot-com was a display of economic will. But it was also a display of the mob mentality and the above-mentioned impulsive belief that quick and drastic action must equal improvement. Indeed, almost a year after the First Defenestration of the Internet, not much thought is given to the question of what exactly it was that we so readily threw out and why.

If you think about what makes the Internet industry great, three things come to mind: the high level of innovation, inspired leadership and a pandemic overuse of spin.

Social psychologists would probably point to the latter two in trying to explain how the world became infatuated with everything "Internet". Apparently, it's all about informational social influence or about our tendency to "learn about the world from the actions of others, and use their opinions as the evidence about reality" (Callan, Gallois, Noller and Kashima, 1991). In other words, when leaders lead and spinners spin, the mob tends to follow. Conversely, when things go wrong, defenestration is likely to occur.

Sounds like the Internet "revolution"? You bet it does! What we all seem to be forgetting is that for every greedy, marketing-dependent spinner that you threw out with the dot-com water, there is a hard-working company with sound business fundamentals, a viable e-biz model and reliable leaders to be reckoned with.

First, there are the innovators like Com Tech's master of reinvention and diversification, David Shein. It is to Shein's credit that Com Tech, a Web developer, integrator, reseller, educator or whatever you want to call it, has a reputation as the only company in the channel successfully practicing 20 ways of skinning the Internet cat. And then there is someone the calibre of Cisco's John Chambers, legendary for his ability to overcome the odds, someone who does not let the market run his business for him, but leads all the way.

No-one would seriously compare these guys with the now defunct LibertyOne, for instance, but that is the whole point! The fact that LibertyOne was liberated from its dot-com misery, causing investor heartache along the way, doesn't mean that the Com Techs and Ciscos of this world should or, indeed, will go out the Internet window too.

Ours is an industry responsible for the enthusiasm with which the Internet was first embraced as a business concept. As such, no-one can accuse IT of lacking the imagination, the pioneering spirit or the ability to take new business models to the big wide world. Yet we have to be held accountable for the speed and the magnitude of the First Defenestration of the Internet, primarily because selling a revolution requires more than a passing spurt of revolutionary energy packaged in clichés by our marketing political commissars.

Perhaps the world economy is not ready for virtual markets just yet and the mob is in the mood to lynch, but that's what revolutions are all about! And unless you hold onto your beliefs and your business sense, you might as well start strategically positioning your garbage pile right now.

For, even if you don't remember the 1930s, the 1980s should have taught you that defenestration is not an answer to depression. Or recession, for that matter.

Photograph: Tamara Plakalo

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