The Second Coming

William Butler Yeats I hated poetry growing up. I was too busy playing football, killing off brain cells with each collision. While we had a pretty intellectual team, poetry was not high on the list of topics to discuss.

But as the years marched on, an appreciation for how poets see the world and capture the essence of life grew on me. I now prefer reading what poets have to say rather than the cheerleading pundits who often refuse to see the world as it is… and how it should be.

The following poem was written right after World War I. War used to be the essence of chaos… that is before we learned how to shield ourselves from it with an all-volunteer armed forces. Shielding ourselves from hard realities is what we do best in the online industry and as a nation. This is why I am drawn to views few want to consider, whether these views are in regard to our wars, economy or online industry.

So today, with the help of William Butler Yeats, let’s explore if what he had to say applies to our present circumstances. The Second Coming is one of the most famous poems of the 20th Century. It begins:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.

Are we not in a storm? The swirling gyre is threatening each and every one of us. Amazon reported sales of $12.82 billion in Q2 yet made a profit of only $7 million. Best Buy and Sears are nearly bankrupt. Zynga had massive Q2 losses. Groupon is looking more like smoke and mirrors. Yahoo has had 3 CEOs in 18 months and AOL cannot find their feet in the dark. And I have not even mentioned Facebook yet…

This sure does sound like an industry vortex that has the potential to swallow all of us.

And it does not appear that anyone is in charge and can give direction. Greenspan said his model of reality was wrong. Wasn’t he the ultimate falconer? Were we not the obeying falcons? For us online falcons, wasn’t Fred Wilson supposed to be the great falconer? He still thinks the ad model is not broken…I stopped listening to his falcon calls long ago.

I do not know about all the readers, but it sure feels like anarchy is upon us. We spend more and more on predictive algorithms while ad performance continues to decline. It also feels like the more “quantitative easings,” a euphemism for bail outs, are planned, the more chaos we have.

So many people are opting out of the conversation… from voting to questioning online models. The field is left to those of us with passionate intensity to howl in the wind. Few can hear and even fewer want to hear.

Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand; A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The gyre is surely a prelude to some revelation. Some see Spiritus Mundi or globalization in today’s vernacular, as the way out. An argument can be made that globalization is one of the causes of the vortex. What looks down us? Of course Google is the Sphinx-like “watcher” menacing our privacy. It is half beast, half man. Google monitors every move we make in pitiless fashion. To make matters worse, it tries to convince us that its gaze is for our own good. Are not relevant ads good for us?

The darkness drops again but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

We continue to sleep through the present as we have the past 2000 years. What should be dreams in our sleep have become nothing but nightmares. And ultimately what will emerge from this turmoil? Not a savior, but a beast.