May 31, 2004

Our society's attitudes about and interaction with the Internet remind me of some kind of unhealthy personal relationship - not exactly puppy love, not exactly fatal attraction, but certainly too optimistic, obsessive and confused. Like the characters on "Sex in the City," we have high expectations of the Web and everything associated with it. But no matter how satisfying our initial encounters might be, once the experience does not meet our standards, our contempt knows no limits. Still, no matter how many times we are disappointed, we're always ready to try again.

Both emotional extremes have been demonstrated in recent weeks. First, the giddy public response to the announcement of the Google IPO shows how many of us still are looking for a technological and financial Mr. (or Ms.) Right. With all the breathless mass media attention ("When will it happen? Who will get to buy? How will it change them?"), I was almost surprised that photographs of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn't show up on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine.

Then there was the conviction of Frank Quattrone, Credit Suisse First Boston's erstwhile head of technology investment banking, on charges that he impeded the investigation of improper management of stock offerings - most of which were late-90's Internet-related IPOs. Again, the general theme of the public analysis was that there was a direct connection between Quattrone's evident wrongdoing and the fact that he was involved in the Internet - almost a kind of guilt by association. The bad feelings and recriminations are like those of a spurned lover (and those who questioned the verdict almost sounded like classic enablers).

So, for a change, it's the bank technology executives who seem to have the right attitude about the Internet - an open mind mixed with healthy skepticism. They've been burned by romance, so they're not counting on the Internet to "complete them" Jerry McGuire style. Rather, they've settled on a more flexible arrangement that gives them what they need when they need it, with no false hopes - kind of like an arranged marriage, with occasional flashes of passion, or at least tolerant affection. To further belabor the pop culture analogy, that may be "as good as it gets."

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...