For some in the tech industry, Christmas 2002 has a bleak midwinter feel to it. Thousands of ex-tech employees and contractors are out of work, and the financial performance of leading tech companies is still a cause for concern.
But there is hope. A good deal of it, and a growing feeling that the worst wobbles and doubts about the relevance and usefulness of information technology are behind us.
As we approach the third anniversary in March 2003 of the dotcom crash it is only now, with the benefit of three years of reflection, becoming clear exactly how profoundly these events undermined the confidence of the information technology sector. Compounded by other events, some related to the dotcom market madness like Wall Street frauds, and some unrelated events like the 11 September attacks on America. Whatever the complex connections between these events, the consequences are plain to see. What began as a market correction in the Internet business precipitated a deep, global recession. The question is: what happens now?
As always, there are forces beyond the tech sector that determine the market environment. A war with Iraq, for example, would reduce growth in information technology spending to close to zero according to some estimates. The strength of the world economy will directly affect the amounts of money that companies and consumers will spend on technology products. This is all so much common sense -- and you don't need to be an economist to understand that when people are feeling secure and confident about their future they are more inclined to spend money.
It's about confidence. Of course. But the tech sector's own self-confidence is most critical in this, and holds the key to its own and the world's recovery. Technologists need to rediscover their self-belief and remind themselves that building information and communications tools is a force for good in the world. Overcoming the wobbles, the self-doubt, and fighting back against the negative voices that erroneously argue that investing in ICT doesn't pay off. It does pay off. We in the tech industry can prove it -- and we must pick ourselves up, get back in the fight, and knock out those negative voices with cogent arguments for information technology.
My optimism for 2003 is based on what I hear. And more and more of what I hear in the press events I attend, and the product demonstrations I see, is a confident, post-crash voice saying 'whatever your fears about the Internet, this is a smarter way of doing things'.
Technology is not going away. That simple truth is all the IT industry needs to sustain its self worth. Sure, there is a minority of academics and analysts who question the productivity gains won through investment in information technology -- but you can bet your bottom dollar that these people are writing their reports on a nice new Dell, carrying out their research on a broadband connection to the Internet, sharing their work with colleagues on a fast, secure wireless LAN, and IM'ing their friends like the rest of us. No, they are not giving up on any new technology -- and neither is anybody else.
So take heart IT folks -- the world needs you more than ever. Information technology offers smarter ways of doing things, it means less time in the office and more time for families, less pollution, increased knowledge, digital entertainment that will make your draw drop, and above all, better ways for humankind to express itself and communicate.
ZDNet's Christmas day message for 2002 is therefore: be proud tech sector. Rediscover your self-confidence and self worth. There is nothing to fear, and the world needs your talent every bit as much as it always did. No technology recession, no war, no employment setback changes that one nanometre.