Commerce used to be more fashionable. The French historian Fernand Braudel writes that in the 1630s “ten ships a year from the Indian ocean, from Calicut, Surat, or Msulipatam, and the odd Portugese ship out of Goa were still arriving in Mocha with cargoes of pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves“. He quotes a French trader of the 17th century about Cairo: “the number of merchants of the Indies is beyond reckoning, in coffee, incense, gum, aloes of all sorts, senna and tamarind, saffron-bulbs, myrrh, ostrich plumes, fabrics of all kinds of thread and cotton, stuffs and porcelains.” I’d like to believe that 300 years from now, someone will read “real-time operating systems from New Mexico sent for cell phones in Nice, jet engine testers in Hartford, machine tools in Shanghai, network switches in Sunnyvale, and locomotives in Germany” and marvel at the odd commerce of a forgotten age. It does seem unlikely. the software business is just not as romantic as shipping coffee and tamarind via Mocha. But I doubt that those ancient merchants in Mocha could beat us on sheer absurdity of our Internet age world mix of cultures. G. and I went to visit the Japanese owned machine tool company in Shanghai, climbed the stairs to a foyer where, as per Japanese custom, shoes were exchanged for slippers provided by our hosts, and then we tried focus on a serious business discussion, suavely drinking green tea while dressed in suits and ties wearing fuzzy Budweiser-logo slippers on our feet.
I guess it could have been worse.