Senior West Virginians -- who grew up understanding a day's pay for a day's work in a tangible job -- probably are stupefied by the strange new Internet world where huge fortunes are made by jiggering zeros and ones in digital code.
Here's a current example:
Social networking has a slew of sites allowing users to post digital photos, videos and notes -- such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, LinkedIn, MySpace and the like. But those sites contain a hazard: If a sexy young person sends a nude "selfie" or intimate comment to a boyfriend or girlfriend, the risqué message may be copied by strangers and dispersed to the world.
However, adolescent cyber whizzes created Snapchat, which lets users transmit items that vanish immediately after they're seen. This highly private communication was a quick success, jumping to 200 million members in June, then 350 million by September. USA Today said Snapchat soared because it "lets people exchange photos and videos that disappear in a few seconds after being viewed, leaving little digital footprint for parents and teachers to see."
Astoundingly, Facebook offered $3 billion for Snapchat, even though USA Today called it "a company of a few dozen employees with no foreseeable profit and a fresh-faced 23-year-old CEO." Even more astoundingly, Snapchat rejected the buyout offer, on grounds that it can make even-larger profits as it snowballs.
Incredible. Average folks still find it amazing that computers and the Internet can spawn enormous wealth, just from the zeroes and ones of digital code. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that an "online storage service" called Dropbox now claims to be worth $8 billion -- and said the value of cyber sites is reaching "nosebleed level."
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lost money last year, and his wealth dropped to just $23 billion -- but other cyber tycoons kept climbing: Bill Gates of Microsoft, $67 billion total assets; Larry Ellison of Oracle, $43 billion; Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, $33 billion; etc.
The Internet is becoming a global meetinghouse that handles a thousand different types of functions. Like it or not, it is transforming nearly everyone's daily life.
As computer engineering professor Dan Siewiorek of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh said: "We're in a big social experiment. Where it ends up, I don't know."