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In the world of Internet time and e-commerce, the possibility of disastrous failure has been removed from the lingo and the mindset. The best and the brightest face only “challenges” today, and the worst that ever happens to them is a “setback” for which they are nonetheless rewarded. Failure, in short, no longer humbles innovators. It should. But how can failure humble a multimillionaire, especially one whose riches were built without scoring a hit product or service?

Easy money, I fear, is turning innovators into show horses, ready to jump on command but lacking the character to deal with the inevitable downturns. Sated on riches, obsessed with equity portfolios and charitable donations, high-tech innovators no longer think they need to accept the costs of failure.

We are accustomed to technologies soaring onward, relentlessly delivering the “new and improved,” but this is not always the case, and computer innovators will learn this sooner or later, as engineers in the field already have. Someday, the Web world will suffer its own equivalent of the blown tire that led to the grounding of the Concorde. When this happens, will the pooh-bahs of the Internet have the honesty of the British and French officials who revoked the Concorde’s flightworthiness certificate? I’m afraid they won’t, and one culprit will be undeserved riches, which have made tough choices that much tougher. Less money, better technology. Less money, more inspiration. Less money, more honesty.

Walking down the streets of Palo Alto, dodging the fancy bikes, I catch snippets of overheated conversations and entertain the thought that I am on the wrong side of history. Hey,maybe there’s nothing wrong with Dom Perignon and fries. But living well can betray the artist in us all, and savage the rare creator. So in Silicon Valley-and the many boomtowns it has spawned-the inventor who played for glory is a vanishing species. Now they only play to win. Andall for the sake of an overpriced bungalow.

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