The Hyper Trade

Internet Investing Is the New Vegas

But ultimately anyone who covets a wealthy lifestyle is a potential customer. Golf course and Concorde ads run next to the market charts, as business and pleasure merge in cyberspace. "Buy low. Score low," the ad copy urges. Mock portfolios allow you to track stocks you don't even own, providing a pulsing connection to the supertrader flexing in the arena of the Great Bull.

In the roaring '90s, when beating the market is more popular than fighting the power, the market jock has become a cultural icon. Two Sundays ago, The New York Times featured a splashy cartoon of bankers battling in "the canyons of Wall Street" while helpless superheroes look on. Even rock stars, models, and athletes--the old-school guardians of cool--are playing the mogul game.

In the '80s, Gordon Gekko, the heartless leverage-buyout king of the yuppie classic Wall Street, went to jail for his sins. Now, after a decade of relentless market growth, the culture's ambivalence has given way to a heady embrace of high finance, and millions aspire to Gekko's icy mien.

As business becomes a metaphor for cool, investing is being transformed into investainment. Last month, E*Trade signed a comarketing agreement with CBS SportsLine. The deal to snag affluent fans suggests an overlap between men who work the market and men who follow teams. It makes sense, since sports, like stocks, is a game of data, in which measuring performance is part of the thrill.

The connection isn't lost on Matt. When he clicked on sell, he felt in his fingertip all the information on market conditions the late 20th century could offer. The rush of molding and manipulating all that data--of power wrapped tight--is a big part of being infohip.

It's easy to do well trading in the market these days. But when it comes to the small investor, most professionals agree that buying and selling at breakneck speed is the worst possible strategy. "Constantly switching your money from one fund to another is an expensive habit that is harmful to your net worth," notes the prominent mutual-fund manager Peter Lynch.

Heavy trading works for big-time institutional investors, who have many advantages over Joe Clickpack. Wielders of concentrated capital have access to initial public offerings at prices well below what the public pays. And even when they buy retail, the big boys have the leverage to profit from micromargins--what Tom Wolfe called "golden crumbs"--while small investors must wait for a score that may never come. "A lot of people who think they are executing trade strategies that beat the market are not," says Musto. "They are losing because their profits are being eaten up by commissions and spreads."

Still, the future of investment lies in these Internet environments. Analysts envision a time when trading carries little or no transaction costs and the Internet is so pervasive--and such fun--that people will buy and sell stock anywhere, anytime.

Even though Matt has left the table, he can't get WLA out of his head. He checks the stock frequently, and he's lacerating himself because it's just split three-for-one. Would he ever invest the stodgy way, waiting for his capital to grow over time? "It's like saying, 'Would you rather be at a library reading a book?' " Matt observes. "I consider this a totally hyper type of activity. I could call it hyperinvesting."

Soon, Matt's preoccupation may involve more than just managing his money. Imagine downloading a Sony Tristar movie and, along with the usual commercials, being offered a deal on Sony stock. Imagine millions of people deeply engrossed in a form with the immediacy of television, the inteactivity of a video game, the high-stakes tension of gambling, and all the gravity of growing wealthy. Imagine the Net as the technology that marries money to fun. There will certainly be bumps along the way, a few recessions here and there, maybe another depression. Minor stuff. But one day, the market will be us.

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