Below, Honore de Balzac had already said everything almost 200 years ago: the anxiety of “climbing,” the corruption that prevails over talent, the fact that there is not space for everyone. A century later, Joseph Schumpeter reduced the “social climber” to the mundane living rooms, marriages based on interest, small income, to the thrust into the industrial vortex. Transformed into entrepreneur, it was his turn to discover the new applications of electricity, chemistry and mechanics at the dawn of mass production. His prize was creative destruction, the profit from a monopoly; he left the risk to the bankers; he offered work and products to society. Fifty years later, it was on to the new information technology revolution with its prophet, Steve Jobs. The profits were the same, but this time finance has taken the helm, work is only created in China, and the new products are increasingly less essential.
In order to hide the fatigue of a stagnant capitalism, the “start-up” myth is born, the new enterprises that out of nothing could have the ingenious idea, enchant the financial world, become the new Apple, and make the social climbers climb. The myth of a society reduced to the market, where “we are our own entrepreneurs,” individualistic at the highest levels, is inevitably narcissistic (this is what our special feature “Disconnected” dealt with last July 22). Also these “unequal lives” compared to everyone else, who lack ambition, who have lost hope, and who have — still, despite the “spirit of the times” — other values.
This time there are no new goods at the store, things useful to live a dignified life, to improve work, to prevent exhausting the planet. This time there are gadgets, cute ideas in search of a niche, useless merchandise capable of seducing the financial world, of withstanding the period of speculation. And more than anything, at the store there are now people — nude and crude. No longer, as in the era of Marx, are they their labor force. All the people: the hearts, the minds, the arms, the identities, the fantasies. People who no longer ask to be paid for their work, but who bet on being adopted by the financial world, introduced in the mundane social gatherings of our days. The people of the story — and the facts — narrated by Costanza Galanti here next to me.
It was inevitable that all of this would arrive at Rome’s doorstep. But it’s paradoxical that here we chase after Apple’s ghost instead of turning to our model of grand technological venture, Olivetti, which came before Apple to invent the personal computer, capable of giving meaning to an undertaking and dignity to work, and then lost in the financial logistics of new owners.
There is a difference today since Balzac. We have gotten to a decline from the industrial revolution: The gaze of ambition is no longer the ascent to the modern promises of the big city; it’s the disoriented search for survival in a depressed suburb.