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Taking our measure

Along with the rest of the nation, the tech industry mourned its dead this week. But CNET News.com's Charlie Cooper explains why terror can't beat the spirit that created Silicon Valley.

"Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O God. Lord, hear my voice: Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications." (Psalm CXXX)

What can you say when words fail and you wake up to a nightmare that only gets worse?

Along with the rest of the nation, the tech industry is burying its dead. The count so far includes people who worked for Cisco Systems, Akamai Technologies, Compaq Computer, Metrocall, MRV Communications, Netegrity, Oracle, eLogic, Raytheon Company, Sun Microsystems, NextWave Telecom, BEA Systems, Applied Materials, Vividence and 3Com.

In the meantime, you hold your breath, hope and pray.

And like the rest of the country, IT folks struggle to go about their jobs, doing the best they can under the circumstances, with one eye on their computer monitor and the other cocked on the nearest television monitor. It's no easy charge, and I suppose the pain will remain forever. But in time, the collective shock will start to wear off and we'll return to something passing for normalcy.

And what then? What will be our contribution, and how will we be measured as an industry, post-World Trade Center?

Along with the new questions about how the rest of an already shaky economy will fare, the computer industry already faced myriad questions. For the better part of the last 18 months, the storyline has been annotated by reports of slumping sales, stock-price deflation and mounting layoffs. If you were a journalist interested in writing a story about yuppie angst, there was no shortage of raw material to select.

But all those things now seem a lot less important.

To be sure, we're entering a new, still uncertain chapter in our history. With terrorists attempting to sow fear and death, the television talking heads mournfully intone about America's loss of innocence and wonder how we'll emerge from this time of troubles.

Well, speaking as a guy who grew up New York City, I think the best way to deny them the petty victory they so desperately want is to get things back to business as usual--and as quickly as possible. Simple? No, and in many ways, we can never turn back the clock to the way it was before last Tuesday.

But in a small way, here's where some of the best and the brightest people in the world who inhabit the IT business can make their stand. Who doubts that Silicon Valley and the rest of the nation's computer industry can suck it up and demonstrate the verve and imagination that's made them the envy of the entire world?

It's impossible to turn creativity on and off as if it were a spigot. But the creation of more great software and hardware to help better the lives of millions of people will only speak volumes about how we came through this ordeal.

In this battle, the weapons won't be bullets and bombs but imagination and vigor. I'll take one Daniel Lewin--the co-founder of Akamai who lost his life when American Airlines flight 11 crashed--over 100 Osama bin Ladens every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Even then, it's not a fair fight.