And none of it is good.
Definitions of greatness and influence are definitely becoming more fluid. Winston Churchill once held that spot, along with Stalin, Eisenhower, Einstein, Mao, Gorbachev and various inventors, world leaders and political figures.
How fitting that the man the nation's allegedly most influential newsmagazine chooses to usher in the new century has left this legacy to the world, according to the cover: "E-commerce is changing the way the world shops." Maybe the editors of Time need to get out more.
Is this really all that dramatic; the most significant person on the planet in l999? I shop online all the time, and it seems pretty non-revolutionary to me - I give them money, they send me stuff in cardboard boxes. Will historians down the road really be poring over Jeff Bezos life and times on Amazon to define the history of the l990's, or even of the Internet? That's a grim thought.
Bezos is mostly interesting because he's the perfect metaphor for the greedy, commercialized, insane atmosphere currently surrounding all things Web. Aside from causing the invention of some very nifty commercial software, and craftily evoking a wholesome commercial image, his big idea is to amass goods in warehouses - toys, electronics, books and music - and send them to people who want them. As is well known, he hasn't made a dime in profit, yet he's amassed billions. He's also attacking the very culture he's supposed to embody by suing competitors to block the spread of innovative software.
This makes him the man of the hour in terms of Web commerce, but it's not greatness or even influence. Can you recount a single thing this person has said or done that you will remember for years, or be talking about next month. Maybe one-click shopping is more significant than we realized.
All you need know about Bezos are the "Six Core Values" he preaches to Amazon's employees wherever he goes:
- Customer Obsession
- Bias for Action,
- High Hiring Bar
I was nearly moved to tears. This is stirring stuff in corporate terms, an ideological blueprint for the rampaging corporatism infecting the Internet, if for nothing else.
I might have come up with a different list, not that anybody asked. My man of the year might be Linus Torvalds, who - unlike Bezos - really did change the world, liberating computer software and the information it carries from one company's tyrannical grip for many millions of people.
This year, Open Source become something much bigger than a geek obsession, turning into a full-blown mainstream social and commercial movement. Tim Berners-Lee might be on my short list. He did, after all, invent the very Web that on which Bezos is taking in billions this year. Or Jonathan Postel, who died last year, but whose work to keep the Internet free and open a generation ago is right now bearing fruit all over the planet. "Q" wouldn't be my top choice, but he'd have to make the list, just for kicks. He loved making weird, neat stuff.
Or a group cover: some programmers and developers who truly are transforming not only commerce but the way we do almost everything, including think, learn, publish, watch movies, acquire music, and interact with one another.
I might pick the housewife in Dayton, Ohio who put up a website to give away free coupons and stuff and gets a half-million hits a day, (many more readers than The New York Times. Or some of the elderly people on Senior Net who use the Net to post farewell messages to their friends and families before they die.
Or perhaps the protesters who organized online, then went to Seattle and began the laborious process of taking on the fat, greedy companies who are choking individualism.
I might put on the list one of the creators of ICQ, Hotline, or even AIM, all of which are transforming communications, creating more new kinds of communities in a day than was once possible in years. Or a geneticist who, for better or worse, is slaving away on the Human Genome Project, and is about to unravel the secrets of human life.
Those are just a handful of the Net People of the Year I might consider.
Jeff Bezos doesn't come close.
How about you?