The Davos Conference: Really Stupid Internet Advice from Allegedly Smart People

The just-ended World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has been touted as the world’s finest gathering of brains and power. But if the participants’ assessments of “The 10 Web sites that will change the world” are any indication of their overall competency, then we may need our Y2K generators and spare food after all.

Diane Francis, an editor with Canada’s Financial Post, braved the conference’s blizzard of egos and slogged through the resulting drifts of natural equine agricultural fertilizer to write a series of refreshing reports that offered a welcome respite from the breathlessly fawning coverage that characterized most other accounts. In one revealing piece, she reported (“A four-day mix of issues and cocktails”) that the very important people who attended had devised a list of web sites that would change our lives.

Could this be the investment guide of the future? Was this the golden compass to point venture capital toward the Internet of the 21st Century?

As if! A close look at the list suggests that maybe a conference like this ought to be held at sea level where the oxygen concentration is higher and folks are less likely to suffer from altitude-induced mental impairment. Francis reports that ” Among sites selected were: Mioforma (for health care providers); Agweb (to unite the world’s farmers); the Drudge Report (Matthew Drudge’s e-newsletter that exposed the Monica Lewinsky scandal); Bluemountainarts (which allows people to send virtual greeting cards, balloons or flowers); Webnoize (entertainment industry gossip) and (which will provide you with a mail-abuse prevention system or means of blocking the reception of unwanted e-mail junk known as spam).

Sending electronic greeting cards and balloons will change the world? I can see it now: The United Nations Security Council withdraws its forces from Kosovo and deploys a strategic legion of friendship cards. Makes me think that maybe Davos was downwind from the World Ganja Toking Championships?

Now remember: this confab of the fabulous featured people whose everyday quirks, pecadillos and fetishes affect our everyday lives. Hanging out in the rarified atmosphere were: 300 politicians, 33 of them heads of state including President Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak of Israel, Tony Blair of Britain, and King Abdullah of Jordan; 1,200 business leaders including both Bill Gates and Steve Case; 400 prominent academics and cultural figures such as Princess Anne; a lot of South American novelists that nobody has ever heard of.

While B2B sites are cutting measurable points off inflation and Internet stocks in general have created a broad base of new wealth not seen since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, these wunderkind architects of the new world order would have us think that Matt Drudge will change our lives? Remember, Drudge is a guy that even the junk-TV kings at Fox Network couldn’t handle. They yanked his show last November when Drudge scheduled a program on abortion; instead of using images of an abortion, he wanted to use footage of a fetus undergoing surgery to correct a spinal defect. Drudge, the paragon of new media journalism who will change our lives, huffed of the set in a snit, crying censorship and seeing nothing wrong with his surgical video bait and switch.

Clearly Davos offered little guidance for investors other than to go short on most of this elite gang’s investment advice. So, in the end, it may be fittingly ironic that Davos originally achieved its fame for people who came here to die: Davos was where people afflicted with tuberculosis came for the final wasting away, a fact that made it so appropriate for Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. According to Mann, people from “all corners of the earth had come to gather here to take up the horizontal for good and all.”


s like a good place to bury the notion that the world’s pompously self-important people can come up with decent ideas about the Internet. We should all go pray that their notions about currency reform and world trade are a whole lot better.

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