Look Back in Anger (The Netslaves New Media Caste System Revisited Nine Years Later)
The simple concept behind the Netslaves Project (1998-2003) was that there was a hidden "caste" system which invisibly controlled the career mobility possibilities of tech workers. Now that almost a decade's gone by since The Netslaves New Media Caste System was formulated, it's time for a quick look back at how each Caste has fared. While many have fallen and a few have risen, the system remains remarkably intact.
Mole People (Level 1)
Back in 1998, "Living Large" meant burrowing out a virtual cave on "obscure chat channels, restricted-access newsgroups, abandoned BBS' -- basically, anywhere far away from the maddening crowd." Today, however, while Mole People live "in the crowd," on social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook, their penchant for narcissistic paranoia remains intact: the only thing that's different is that it's easier for marketers to reach them (which makes them even more paranoid). While Mole People used to be flat broke back in the late 1990's, today many of them are making up to $.60 per day via Google Adsense, just enough to keep these tiny mammals alive.
Social Workers (Level 2)
Social Workers ("the tireless servants who endure the endless stream of nonsense emanating from the Net's Tower of Babel") have taken a major hit in the past decade, because chats and BBS's have been replaced by texting and ephemeral Notice announcements on social networks. But members of this long-suffering Caste are still around, breaking up fights on mailing lists, controlling comments on Blogs, and otherwise keeping anarchy at bay. One would think that Social Workers would have flocked to Social Networks, but most of them are so frightened by the idea of a random unmoderated Facebook-style encounter that they continue to huddle in their own lonely sites, from which they offer words of wisdom that nobody reads.
Cops & Streetwalkers (Level 3)
The career possibilities of both Cops and Streetwalkers have actually improved in the past nine years, because their role is now to manage primal urges in a total surveillance society. This can mean big bucks for Cyber-Cops, especially in places like Iran and China, where U.S. technology is being used to round up people who just can't adjust to a totalitarian life. Streetwalkers have taken a hit, given that online porn's subscription model is weakening, but all you have to do is peruse Craigs List in any U.S. city to see that the world's oldest profession is very much alive online.
Garbagemen (Level 4)
Very little has changed in the world of Garbagemen (AKA "techies") in the past ten years, because software (especially the Microsoft variety) continues to be buggy and users continue to get dumber (especially the young ones, who've never even seen a circuit board). But the hellish life of your average troubleshooter is still brightened whenever he thinks of Linux, which remains a beautiful, unattainable dream he'll probably take to his grave.
Cab Drivers (Level 5)
Freelance contract slaves took a major hit during the dotcom downturn, and a fair number of them are driving real cabs today. But there's still a vast need for low-level content production people, and Google is employing vast numbers of them today (without any fancy benefits, of course). Living hand to mouth will never go out of style, here or in Bangalore.
Fry Cooks (Level 6)
The past nine years haven't been kind to Fry Cooks (AKA project managers and mid-level managers). Those which escaped the technology downturn by getting a "sane job at a stable company" have often seen the rug pulled on these same companies by disruptive external forces, including outsourcing, the endless need for more profits, and yes, the Internet itself. But there will always be a need for Fry Cooks in this business. After all, if they really went extinct, Microsoft would have nobody to sell PowerPoint to.
Gold Diggers and Gigolos (Level 7)
The depraved social butterflies of Web 1.0 have been almost completely wiped out, which is a very good thing, because these invasive species were responsible for more waste in the party-crazed culture of the late 1990's than anyone. Unfortunately, they've been replaced by an equally evil caste of smooth-faced, jargon-spouting miscreants who continue to shmooze unabated at conferences such as Search Engine Strategies and various Web 2.0 conferences. These shows waste more money than all the parties conducted from 1995 to 2000, but as long as Google's footing the bill nobody cares.
Hustlers and Sharks (Level 8)
The big consultancies that ruled Web 1.0 (Sapient, Viant, MarchFirst, Razorfish) are history, so this Caste is virtually extinct. Few miss them; even fewer understand what they ever really did to earn their massive salaries. But many of these sharp-eyed predators are still employed, often in the digital subdivisions of massive advertising holding companies. Sharks can smell blood oozing from a big brand from miles away, and they're still first in line with a "turnkey solution traced in blood."
Street Vendors (Level 9)
Street Vendors ("executives of countless New Media start-ups who hawk their wares from dusty roadside dives along the Information Superhighway") are still around, although their lingo has changed profoundly, and so have their wares. Anyone using the words "viral, social media optimization," "conversation," "behavioral targeting," "widgets" or "monetization" is likely affiliated with these guys, whose only mantra is "Exit Strategy," and whose only chance of success is a shot at another IPO or an acquisition by Google, Microsoft, or perhaps even a bumbling Old Media conglomerate.
Priests and Madmen (Level 10)
You don't hear people mentioning Mark Andreeson, Steve Case, Kevin Kelly, Howard Rhinegold, Jaron Lanier, or Esther Dyson much anymore, but just because these Web 1.0 visionaries are old hat doesn't mean that they haven't been replaced by a younger, hipper crowd, many of whom now work for Google. Ego and psychotropism is very much alive in Silicon Valley, and that hasn't changed a whit in nine years.
Robots (Level 11)
Robots did very well in the past nine years. While lesser Caste members were tearing their hair out over lost paper wealth and crushing AMT rates, the Robots simply soldiered on in mechanical fashion and built multi-billion dollar companies whose growth is fueled exclusively by the destruction of all prior human institutions. Google's founders typify the new face of "Kill, Crush, Deploy" in a particularly frightening way, because they appear to be actual human beings. But this illusion is just the result of better simulation technology. To these perpetual winners, humanity is merely a resource to be scanned, indexed, and reconfigured, a temporary problem that will be transcended someday by a more elegant solution.
God bless them all.