Sobering up to reality

There's no firm date just yet, but people will realize that dot-coms were not the Internet after all, just a bunch of kids who got the party rolling by jumping on this hot new roller coaster and taking us all along for the ride of our lives.

It's no fun to spend the holidays with a hangover. Unfortunately, the boys and girls in the technology sector are learning that lesson the hard way. They are just now sobering up after a five-year binge, and it's going to take a while to clear the toxins of so much excess from their systems - and ours.

Little wonder we've all been feeling unusually bah-humbug amid the normally festive holiday colors. This season, green is money lost, and red is the ink way down there at the bottom line.

What was it we drank last night?

Ah yes, now it's coming back: the 64-month party, the gala of relentless expansion. We ignored that warning from the Ghost of Christmas Past about "irrational exuberance." We were inhaling the intoxicating smoke of hype and dancing a bump-and-grind with the most seductive of party girls, Frenzied Greed. A good time was had by all.

Remember when the Dot-Com Boys jumped up on stage and declared themselves a New Economy?

Hey, it seemed new, didn't it? Clearly, they had been liberated from the old rules of supply and demand, freed of dated concepts like assets, unshackled from metrics like profit-to-earnings ratios. They thumbed their noses at all those things and got filthy rich.

Who was it that declared, "Profits are for suckers!" - Time magazine's Man of the Year? Can't even remember. Helluva party!

Can anyone recall the name of that street choir that got us to sing along on "All I Want for Christmas is Bill Gates' Butt?" Oh, right! Linus and the Penguinistas. Of course, Mr. Bill had to go and cheat at all the games. I mean, anybody can make money when he charges for a product. Where's the art in that? The real party trick is to make money by giving your stuff away for free. Operating systems. Personal computers. Internet access. All free, all the time, now and forever! Anybody got cab fare?

This sobering-up thing is a bummer, no? And all those venture capitalists that kept handing out the free booze aren't likely to be providing us any hair of this particular dog. They all left the party in a funk to count their cash and cruise the town, looking for bigger fools and better parties. Good luck, fellas.

But wait! Let's look at the bright side (OK, maybe it's just the less dark side when viewed through half-empty glasses): Even the worst hangover doesn't last forever. It just seems to.

When the broken glass of the defunct dot-coms and the confetti of worthless options have finally been swept from the trading-room floors - when all the online day-traders have been dragged out on gurneys or in body bags - we will find that preparations for the next big party are already well under way.

There's no firm date just yet, but it will probably get started in the second or third quarter, when people realize that dot-coms were not the Internet after all, just a bunch of kids who got the party rolling by jumping on this hot new roller coaster and taking us all along for the ride of our lives.

We'll all try to be a little better behaved at the next party, won't we? Sure we will. But for now, we're still a little dizzy, a little nervous in the tummy about having invested so much money and energy in business plans that we all knew, deep down, were just spiked swagger. It's kind of like running into an ex-lover and wondering, amid the awkward small talk, what you ever saw in her or him in the first place - or, more precisely, what it was that blinded you for so long to so many obvious imperfections.

This ex, it's now clear, was a real floozy, and one message keeps pounding, loud and clear, in all our throbbing heads: Bubba, 'tis the season to get serious.