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Silicon Revolutionary

Michael Lewis

     ...writer.  His international bestseller, Liar’s Poker, described Wall Street in the 1980s. The New New Thing offers readers an insider’s look at Silicon Valley. An editor as well as reporter, he was the American editor of the British weekly The Spectator and a senior editor at The New Republic. Mr. Lewis is currently a visiting fellow at the University of California-Berkeley. He holds degrees from Princeton and the London School of Economics.


Looking for the new new thing? Go to the right place (Silicon Valley), get acquainted with the right person (Jim Clark). Michael Lewis did both. Having introduced us to the outrages of Wall Street in the '80s (Liar's Poker), Lewis has jumped coasts and fast forwarded into the '90s (The New New Thing).

An economist by training, Mr. Lewis is a story teller by inclination. For his Silicon Valley hero -- anti-hero, actually, cursed with the perpetual dissatisfaction usually found in artists -- Mr. Lewis chose Jim Clark, engineer and entrepreneur extraordinaire. Clark is the only man in the world to have personally created three separate multi-billion dollar companies, each quite different from the next: Silicon Graphics, Netscape and Healtheon. And there's reason to believe Clark is still tracking, on to yet another new new thing.

Clark and the Silicon Valley he represents are, according to Lewis, deeply American. Our frontier experience and mentality are evident at every turn. So is our urge to democratize, our fundamental distrust of authority, and our insatiable appetite for the new.

In the process of fueling the Internet/Information Revolution, Clark -- and Silicon Valley -- have also stood capitalism on its head. Lewis says Wall Street and venture capitalists have been dislodged from the proverbial driver’s seat.  He calls them “waterboys” for Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs and engineers. Even capital itself is being democratized -- today’s capitalism is awash in capital, looking for its own new things. And once treasured skepticism has joined demonstrated profitability as suspected serpents in the new economic Garden of Eden.

The untold story in Silicon Valley? The essential -- and according to Lewis, powerfully positive -- role of government in the creation, maturation and future of the Internet. What about all those Silicon Valley libertarians? Expect them to change their tune when a crunch comes.

In as much as information is the driver for today's New Information Economy and Silicon Valley is information's global epicenter, new new things not only are the source of astonishing profit. They’re changing the very nature of our social relationships. Is that good? Stay tuned.

[This Program was recorded November 19, 1999, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Michael Lewis tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell why he picked Jim Clark as his character to represent the revolution characterized by Silicon Valley. He describes Clark’s galvanizing effect on other players in the drama, a person with the same capacity for self–reinvention that the place has. He describes Silicon Valley as a very American place, the center of today’s economic miracle driven by innovation.

Conversation 1 RealAudio

Conversation 2

Silicon Valley, says Mr. Lewis, is a dystopia masquerading as a utopia. He gives examples. He describes Clark’s approach to life and risk. Mr. Lewis describes Netscape as the turning point both for the the very real Internet revolution and for a new psychology on Wall Street. He explains why skepticism is considered a sin in the new economy. The Internet, he declares, is changing everything, with some of these businesses central to the future of the economy. He wonders, which ones? He explains why he experienced Jim Clark as an intuitive conceptual artist rather than as a businessman.

Conversation 1 RealAudio

Conversation 3

Ideas that are changing the world, not manufacturing processes, are central to what’s going on in Silicon Valley, Mr. Lewis declares, with examples. He suggests America’s frontier experience is key to the Internet/information revolution. He explains why Silicon Valley's value system is very American: democratization, newness and a distrust of tradition. He compares Bill Gates to John D. Rockefeller. Mr. Lewis describes Silicon Valley’s technophilia, declaring it a perpetual motion machine where capital breeds more capital. He recounts the enormous shift in the role of engineers in our society, noting the power in setting free yesterday’s Organization Man.

Conversation 1 RealAudio

Conversation 4

Mr. Lewis compares his perception of Wall Street in the 1980's to Silicon Valley. He notes how the West Coast used to genuflect toward the East, a condition now reversed. Investment bankers, he assures us, have become water boys to -- no longer the captains of -- capitalism, with examples. He tells stories of engineers’ radical change in position, evidenced by the clout now exercised by entrepreneurs like Jim Clark. Mr. Lewis describes the great untold story of Silicon Valley -- the powerful role of government. He addresses the importance of the Microsoft trial. He explains Silicon Valley’s role as an idea laboratory for the world.

Conversation 1 RealAudio

Conversation 5

The idea of capital being democratized is explored further, including anti-democratic forces at work including the widening gap in the distribution of wealth. Mr. Lewis describes potential political fallout he expects when bad times come, concerned about the effects of incredibly rapid changes imposed on society. He notes, with examples, the extraordinary resilience we have seen to date in the current economic valuation system, describing danger he sees ahead.  He considers new kinds of products and efficiencies, along with the importance of the velocity of change. Mr. Lewis compares Jim Clark to other Silicon Valley characters and explains the power and momentum of Silicon Valley itself. He explores the idea of capitalism with too much capital.

Conversation 1 RealAudio

Conversation 6

Mr. Lewis bets that we are truly at the beginning of something new, the key to which is people’s relationship to capital.   He poses the question: Is it a good society, that is one so heavily invested in technology? He questions the value of accumulating “positional” goods.  He explains why, in the end, he sees Jim Clark -- archetype of Silicon Valley -- as a tragic hero.

Conversation 1 RealAudio


Mr. Lewis drew a lively crowd to The Commerce Club in Atlanta, GA. As always the hospitality was impeccable. We thank all concerned..


Related Links:
The New New Thing and Liar’s Poker are published by W.W. Norton & Company (

In his book World War 3.0, The New Yorker's Ken Auletta examined the battle between Microsoft and the U.S. Government over Microsoft's apparent business dominance of innovations supported by the personal computer.

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