Why all the Fuss about the Facebook IPO?

I feel like a stranger in a strange land when I read that investors are clamoring for Facebook stock. To me, Facebook is more of a nuisance than anything. I don’t want to be rude but I hate being invited to join Farmville or some other “community.” And just as I begin to figure out how Facebook works it changes. Now it’s about to change again – drastically.

And thousands of ordinary people are lining up to get in on the Facebook IPO, betting the promised change will revolutionize the web and make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Looking back on the other Internet wonders that have captured the public imagination over the years, it seems there have been more zeroes than heroes. Yahoo is wobbling, and I don’t wonder. Every time Yahoo spends a fortune to acquire some other web site, it runs the new acquisition into the ground. Geocities is an example. You probably don’t even know what Geocities is but it was once a very popular – free – site for amateurs to get their web toes wet. Now it’s no longer free and no longer popular. Indeed, I doubt it still exists.

I can’t recall buying anything from one of those annoying Google ads. In fact, I can’t recall buying much off the web. Flowers to send to my daughter Grace on her birthday, and occasionally a product to provide virus protection or fix some problem on the computer… an Obama T-shirt on ebay that Sandra wanted… another T shirt with a Jamaican flag from Jamaicans.com… some kind of dish with a special pattern… But those purchases have been few and far between. One reason is that we hesitate to put our credit card on the web for fear of the thieves who infest the environment.

I doubt I’ll buy anything that’s advertised on Facebook. I can’t even recall any of their ads.

The Internet was great when it first started. Everything was free and easy. Now, it has become drearily commercial. I bet it won’t be long before they start charging us to search for stuff. And when that happens, we will probably find something else to do with our time.

But back to Facebook. It seems that the only people who profit from Internet investments are the ones who get in on the ground floor. They can become millionaires or even billionaires. But that kind of ground-floor investment is not accessible to you or me. And for investors who ante up after the IPO is launched, I don’t see a pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.

The whole Internet investment thing illustrates how hollow the global economy has become. What does the Internet produce – besides spam?

I concede that email can be convenient, but it can also be a great pain. My inbox is loaded with unsolicited stuff every morning. Subscribe to one news service, for example, and you are flooded with stuff from dozens of others. Sign one petition and look out, the flood gates are opening.

Yes, email is a convenience, but the post office does a pretty good job. Granted it’s slow (that’s why the Internet generation calls it snail mail) but I’m not in that great a hurry to get my bills.

Meanwhile, the people who actually produce stuff get the short end of the stick. While farmers sweat to grow food, the profits go to traders that gamble on the commodities market and to investors who buy shares in the great agricultural monopolies. American auto makers almost went bust a few years back, and now they’ve recovered (thanks to a controversial government bailout)  the workers who bust their butts building the cars are reviled if they ask for a living wage.

Those cool shoes you bought to jog in cost you a bundle, but the folks who made them – poor wretches in China or Bangladesh perhaps – got pennies for their labor.

A line from an obscure Elizabethan play comes to mind, I think it’s called “The Duchess of Malfi” and they made us study it in school back in Jamaica (who knows why?). It goes something like this: “Like idle children whose pleasure is their care, we hurry after bubbles blown in air.”

The same thought is expressed more romantically in a modern day song:

I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky.
Then like my dreams
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere.
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

I’ve chased my share of pretty bubbles on the stock exchange over the years. And if ever there was a bubble blown in air, it’s that Facebook IPO.