Schadenfreude: Webster's dictionary defines it as “glee at another's misfortune.” Once a relatively obscure German word found mostly on college campuses, it has become a popular catch phrase since the Nasdaq crashed earlier this year.
In fact, 2001 likely will be described as the year of Schadenfreude in many circles, because of the way the Internet boom polarized our culture during the past few years. To some at least, the so-called New Economy was the enemy of Old Economy companies, something that undermined traditional values regarding hard work, loyalty and even basic economic concepts.
Instead of a technology paradise, Silicon Valley was viewed by many of us — especially in the conservative Midwest — as a new kind of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Suddenly, going to college, working hard and slowly advancing up the career ladder was considered fools' work in an environment where college dropouts with cute ideas were becoming millionaires overnight thanks to absurdly lucrative stock option plans.
Dot-com mania drove up salaries and set the job market on fire, making fast-track careers seem so easy and available that they were disposable, like tissue and paper plates.
I remember one dot-com recruiter almost laughing when I asked him about the long-term prospects for his company. He told me — oh so smugly — that I shouldn't worry about ditching my current job and joining his outfit because if it didn't work out, there would be dozens of companies fighting to hire me because of my new-found expertise in Internet publishing.
Sticking with a company I'd been with for 15 years (at the time), now that was risky, he said.
Well, that guy lost his job some time ago, and the stock of his former employer has lost 93% of its value during the past year. And guess what: I've learned more about publishing on the Internet by staying put than jumping ship.
It's safe to say I've been riding the old Schadenfreude train for a while now.
When reality finally caught up with the dot-com world, it indeed was sweet revenge for many of us who were forced to uncomfortably second guess our life choices when the Nasdaq was soaring.
And if you're really into enjoying other people's misery, the news out of Silicon Valley just keeps getting better. According to a story last month in the Wall Street Journal, the latest hot shot in Silicon Valley is the Repo Man.
Car repossessions have tripled during the past year in the San Jose, CA, branch of Daybreak Auto Recovery Inc., the newspaper reports. One worker at former high-flyer Cisco systems broke down and cried when the repo man tried to tow away his Lexus SUV — even though he hadn't made payments in a year.
The media now is full of reports about 24-year-old dot-com “geniuses” having to give up their lavish lifestyles and being forced to move back into their parents' basements. Schadenfreude.
Did you hear the guy at work who constantly bragged about how rich he was getting day-trading Internet stocks just declared bankruptcy? Schadenfreude.
Did you hear the woman who left a position at a company similar to yours to get rich at a dot-com startup just got laid off? Schadenfreude.
Yes, if you were never offered ato join some hot new outfit, it's easy to sit back and smugly enjoy the glow of the New Economy meltdown as if it were a vacation campfire.
But the fact is, the Internet isn't going away, and neither are e-commerce and all its iterations. Traditional old-line companies and new Web-based companies now need each other more desperately than ever.
As the economy slows, auto manufacturers, suppliers and retailers need to find new tools and methods for cutting costs, developing new products and finding new customers.
Internet companies — the ones that have real substance — now have the financial need to seriously focus on helping the auto industry find real, workable solutions to these problems, rather than devoting most of their energies to gimmicks and pumping up their stock price.
Both camps have to move on and accept the new realities of the marketplace and learn to work together. They get humble and start driving Chevys, we go easy on the you-know-what. The result could be a much more promising word like symbiosis, the intimate living together of two kinds of organisms to their mutual advantage, rather than something as negative as Schadenfreude.
Almost a year ago my company went to an Internet-based expense account system that was supposed to save time and money.
Instead, it put me into homicidal rages as I spent hours online doing expense reports that used to take only minutes with pen and paper. I hated the system, the mentality behind it and the corporate big wigs who forced it on me.
But as I slowly learned how to use the system, I did find myself saving time — a lot of time.
And suddenly all my expense records were — for the first time ever — easily accessible and organized perfectly.
Now, I actually like the system. There is no turning back.
I just hope some cocky 24-year-old college dropout isn't getting rich off the idea.